Tampa Bay Lightning
Hurricanes keep Lightning in downward spiral
With the Lightning playing out the final week of the season, there are three races to keep an eye on involving Tampa Bay.
Will Marty St. Louis take the lead in the scoring race?
Can Steven Stamkos storm back for the goal-scoring lead?
Exactly how far down the standings will the Lightning fall when it comes to draft lottery positioning?
Tampa Bay gained ground in all three races on Sunday during a 3-2 loss to the Carolina Hurricanes in front of an announced sellout crowd of 19,204 at the Forum. Tampa Bay fell to 0-4-2 in the past six games.
St. Louis had a goal and an assist to pull within one point of Sidney Crosby for the league scoring race with three games to play.
Stamkos scored his 28th goal of the season to pull within two of Washington's Alex Ovechkin in the Rocket Richard race.
And with the win, the Hurricanes leaped over Tampa Bay into 27th place in the league standings and dropped the Lightning to 28th, which would increase their chances of landing the first overall pick in the draft and guarantee a top four pick. The 28th-place team would have a 14.4 percent chance of landing the top pick.
A three-goal opening period by Carolina — which marked the sixth consecutive game during the 0-4-2 stretch that Tampa Bay fell behind by two or more goals — proved to be the Lightning's downfall and was too much of a hole to climb out of.
“I can't sit here and say the guys aren't trying because they are trying,” Lightning head coach Jon Cooper said. “Is it human nature to look down and see that Saturday is our last game? Yeah, so it's probably a little deflating to know that we are out of (the playoffs).”
That set in during the three-goal first period as Carolina put up 15 shots, testing goaltender Anders Lindback, who was playing his first game since March20.
Lindback didn't receive much help in Tampa Bay's zone.
Alex Semin's goal 16 seconds into the game came off a Stamkos turnover behind the net. Jiri Tlusty's first goal was an attempted pass that deflected off the skate of Victor Hedman. Tlusty scored again late in the period, taking advantage of Ryan Malone's indecision with the puck on his stick in the crease, knocking Malone's stick and pushing the puck into the net.
“The way we played the first period today was not acceptable, and coach told us that,” Hedman said.
Tampa Bay had its customary comeback attempt, with Stamkos firing home a one-timer from the left circle for a power-play goal at 10:07 of the second period and St. Louis getting a nifty pass from Vinny Lecavalier off a faceoff win 2:15 into the third.
During the final two periods, Tampa Bay had a 27-13 shot advantage but could not find the tying goal to complete the comeback.
But it was the effort in mounting the charge that Cooper and the coaching staff are looking to see as the eyes start to peer off into the offseason for many.
“We want to see the guys, regardless of where you are in the standings, who is going to bring it every night? We just made some errors tonight,” Cooper said.
“And it just seems when things are not rolling that well, they just seem to end up in the back of your net. And the harder you try, you scratch your head on why some pucks do not go in, so we are just on that little string.
“If this is going to happen to us, I'd rather it happen to us the rest of this year and spin that karma around next year.”
But not before a few races to keep tabs on during the final week of this season come to a conclusion..
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