Time keeps ticking and the season keeps slipping away.
With 21 games left and the climb already a steep trek, the Tampa Bay Lightning face a must-win game tonight in hosting Southeast Division leader Carolina.
Tampa Bay trails the Hurricanes by eight points in the division standings. A win in regulation will close that gap to a manageable six points. Failure to pick up a victory widens the gap to a canyon-like deficit.
And though the Lightning claim every game from here on carries extra importance no matter the opponent, facing the division leader brings even more weight to the equation.
“We are not in a position to think otherwise right now; we have to get points and that’s the only way we are going to give ourselves a chance to climb back into the race,’’ center Steven Stamkos said.
“It’s tough and it’s frustrating, but there are no other options. We have to find ways to win games, at least get a point in games where things are not going as well as you want.’’
One area Tampa Bay would like to improve is getting shots on net. In the past two games, the Lightning generated a total of 31 shots. Though they managed to win at Florida, 3-2, they were shut out by the New York Islanders on Thursday, 2-0.
Thursday’s 18 shot effort against New York was distressing because the coaching staff had emphasized how many shot attempts were passed up in the previous game against Florida.
“We just don’t want to shoot when it’s time,’’ Lightning head coach Guy Boucher said. “We just had a video (Thursday morning) where we had 17 chances (Tuesday) where we passed on shooting opportunities. We did the same thing again (Thursday), so that one I don’t want to accept because it’s us having control of what we can do with those shots.’’
In the past five home games, Tampa Bay scored a total of seven goals and lost all five. Though a lack of shots has not been a direct correlation in every loss, creating chaos with shot attempts that could result in rebounds or loose puck opportunities instead of overpassing is a theme for Boucher. That the team did not respond in the last game was a bit disconcerting.
“That’s frustrating for me as a coach because the plays are there,” Boucher said. “We’ve got those opportunities to put pucks on net, and we do once in a while, but we have to do more.
“It’s the secondary chances that are the ones most often you find in a game, not the first chances, that go in. So, we have to get that in our mind. It’s that extra hesitation to find option B and option C where option A is there. It’s very clear that the shot is there and we are not taking it.’’
But the season is starting to wind down. If more shots on goal don’t translate into more goals and the losses continue to pile up, the Lightning might as well start packing for the summer and looking forward to the draft lottery.
“There are not many games left,” defenseman Victor Hedman said. “We are a few points behind and we know it’s hard in this league to catch up. Obviously, (Saturday) is a huge game.
“(Thursday) was a very close game that went the other way, but we didn’t score any goals and it’s tough to win hockey games if you don’t score goals. So, we have to make sure we put in the same effort defensively, but find a way to create a little bit more traffic and shoot the puck a little bit more.”