BRANDON — Professors often preach in front of a classroom about potential pitfalls and how to avoid them in the future.
But until the student experiences it for the first time, all the lecturing can only serve as preparation. The student must still learn to execute in order to navigate the trail.
The Lightning showed that first-hand in a 4-1 loss Thursday to Calgary, coming out sluggish two nights after clinching a playoff berth in an emotionally charged victory against Montreal. Tampa Bay fell behind by two goals on two unforced errors and never recovered before falling to a team in the bottom five of the NHL standings.
“Those are the type of games where you should get points and carry on and you never talk about it again,’’ veteran defenseman Eric Brewer said. “If we get a point (Thursday) night we are not even talking about (the letdown) right now. Teams that get 100 points, they get a point out of the game. Clearly, we are still chipping away at that mentality and we are getting better, but we are not there yet.’’
It’s still a work in progress for a team that has a handful of rookies on the roster who have yet to experience the emotional high of beating a likely playoff opponent in a playoff atmosphere one night and having to come back out two nights later and deal with an unfamiliar team from the opposite conference that is not playing with desperation.
“I think once you go through it and you know more about it, it helps,’’ right wing Ryan Callahan said. “But even though there haven’t been a lot of guys that have been through that before, you still have to be prepared for that. You can’t have a first period like we did (Thursday). It’s an emotional game, we have a playoff spot, but at the same time we are playing for home-ice advantage so we haven’t accomplished anything until we get that. So it was an emotional high, but at the same time there’s no reason to have a first period like that.’’
After now experiencing what it was like to deal with those emotions, the Lightning focus on getting a better start beginning with tonight’s game against Dallas, a team still fighting to get into the postseason. And of Tampa Bay’s final five games on the regular-season schedule, all five will come against teams that are in the playoff chase — Dallas, Toronto, Philadelphia, Columbus and Washington. Though not all will still be in the running for a postseason berth, or will have already clinched one by the time the Lightning face them, playing against teams with something on the line should get the attention of the players more quickly than what took place against Calgary.
“I think people look at (Thursday) night and think just because Calgary was out of the playoff spot that they were just going to come in and lay over ... that’s not the case,’’ Lightning coach Jon Cooper said. “Because you are in a playoff spot, everyone expects you to win the game and there’s another team out there that has something to say about that.
“So a lesson learned for us, and now we are going to play a bunch of teams that are desperate to win games because they are playing for a playoff position and we are playing for home ice, so we have to be ready.’’
After trying to make it clear to keep the emotional level up and the mental focus sharp, the Lightning expect to enjoy a faster start and a playoff mentality.
“We have to come out from the drop of the puck and be sharp,’’ Cooper said. “Playing with determination and passion for the full 60 (minutes), kind of like what we did against Montreal (on Tuesday), that’s what has to be done, because you know Dallas is going to do it. ... And the one thing I really like about our guys is they understand that they could’ve come out and played and been a little bit more mentally sharp. So I think it’s a collective effort, it was everybody put together, not just one thing. (They understand) this is why it happened, and let’s not let it happen again.’’
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