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Friday, May 25, 2018
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Harsh reality hitting home for Lightning

TAMPA - The math says Tampa Bay still has a chance at the playoffs. Logic dictates otherwise. But as long as there is a fighting chance, the Lightning say there is plenty of fight in them. “We are not thinking we are out of it, so we are not going to quit,’’ goaltender Ben Bishop said. “There are still 10 games left and we are not going to throw in the towel until we are out of it.’’
Tampa Bay had a realistic shot heading into this past weekend. Following a shutout victory at Carolina on Thursday, the Lightning were four points out of the Southeast Division lead with games in hand and two of their final 12 games against division-leading Washington. But a 4-2 loss at the New York Islanders on Saturday was followed Sunday by a 4-2 loss at the Capitals that put Tampa Bay eight points out of the division lead and the eighth spot in the Eastern Conference heading into tonight’s game against Ottawa. It’s a tough dose of reality. “Losses at this stage, especially against teams in your division, are tough to swallow,’’ forward Alex Killorn said. “But until we are mathematically out of it we are going to play as hard as we can.’’ Perhaps some of that reality has set in from above as the team called up rookie defenseman Mark Barberio from Syracuse of the American Hockey League on Monday with the expectation he will make his NHL debut tonight. When Victor Hedman sustained an unspecified lower-body injury Thursday, Matt Taormina was summoned to take Hedman’s spot because he brought some NHL experience to the lineup. After the weekend losses, Taormina was sent back to Syracuse in exchange for Barberio, the AHL defenseman of the year last season. The third-year pro has eight goals and 40 points in 70 games for the Crunch this season. Barberio, 23, will get his first look at the NHL with an eye toward evaluating his game and whether he will be in position to earn a roster spot with Tampa Bay next season. Though there is no public acknowledgement, it allows new head coach Jon Cooper the opportunity to work with a good portion of next season’s roster and build off what he has seen during his brief time on the job. “We are getting so much better as a team,” Cooper said. “There are so many things that are getting better, the problem is we are just running out of time.’’ While many might already have shifted their attention to the draft lottery and the chances of landing a top-three prospect — defenseman Seth Jones or forwards Nathan MacKinnon or Jonathan Drouin — Cooper’s assessment is by no means an admission of giving up. “I guess ultimately you’ll see what these guys have character-wise, because they have every right to throw in the towel and say we are too far out,’’ Cooper said. “Or they can say, let’s rally up the troops and get ready for Ottawa and until we get that little mark that says we are out, we keep going. “And I can tell from the looks in the guys’ eyes in the room, they are genuinely hurt, generally (mad). There is a lot of heart in that room and I have to give them a lot of credit. So, if I’m going to go to war with anybody, it’s going to be that crew that’s in there.’’

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