In what was billed as a home game for the Tampa Bay Lightning (although the thousands of Montreal Canadiens fans that packed the St. Pete Times forum would beg to differ), the Bolts lost their third straight and have stumbled to a 3-4-2 record in their last nine games.
For the streaky Lightning, this is nothing new.
Tampa Bay has had multiple win streaks followed by extended losing skids throughout the 2010-11 season. This slump has a bit of a different feel, though.
Steven Stamkos, the NHL's leading goalscorer, hasn't put one past a goalie in five games and he has just one in his last 12. It's caused Stammer the Hammer to doubt himself, pass up easy shots and try to be too perfect on his trademark blasts.
"It's something that you feel, in practice, in games, you just don't feel like yourself," Stamkos told columnist Martin Fennelly of the Tampa Tribune. "You just don't have that confidence, that swagger. I don't know if that's the right word. That something that makes you go."
Their top player's funk prompted GM Steve Yzerman to pull Stamkos into his office and give the youngster an impromptu pep talk.
Injuries are mounting for Tampa Bay as well.
Vincent Lecavalier, who scored for the eighth time in 11 games in the contest versus Montreal, missed a game with a lower-back injury and is battling through it. The team's power play QB, Marc Andre Bergeron, injured himself weight training. He, too, returned against the Habs—but played through pain.
Ryan Malone remains out of the lineup with what is believed to be a torn stomach muscle. He's not expected back until the postseason. Solid defenseman Mike Lundin, who's suffering through an abdominal strain that has caused him to miss the last 12 games, is getting closer to returning.
Add to that Steve Downie and Nate Thompson.
Downie was scratched from Saturday night's game with an undisclosed injury sustained against Boston and Nate Thompson (who averages 14:49 of ice time) played less than 10 minutes against the Canadiens and did not take a shift in the final 7:18 of the game.
With injuries mounting, the Lightning have found life at the top a little difficult to handle. Tampa Bay did not put their best effort on the ice against Montreal and it certainly showed on the scoreboard.
"The urgency levels for the teams chasing at this time of year is much greater than the teams in front,'' Lightning coach Guy Boucher told reporters. "We played really well in Boston (Thursday), gave everything we got, same thing in New Jersey (Wednesday); we come home for that first period, and I was very surprised (at Saturday's start). Our urgency level was extremely low, and theirs was very high."
At one point, as many as seven points up in the Southeast Division, the Lightning have seen their lead over the three-time defending Southeast Division champion Capitals cut to just one point, with Washington coming in for a showdown Monday night.
Boston has already caught Tampa Bay for the No. 2 seed in the conference and passed the Lightning by.
With 17 games remaining in the season, the Lightning hope to find their spark yet again.
"We've battled through a lot of adversity throughout the year," wing Marty St. Louis said. "Right now, we're in the middle of it."
As they've done so many times this season, Tampa Bay looks to find their way out.
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