TAMPA The Lightning had better get accustomed to nights like Friday, when the intensity, the physicality and the tension ratchet up. Oh, and so does the importance for the remaining 29 games on the schedule.
The Lightning got a taste of some playoff-style hockey against Anaheim, and despite the 2-1 shootout loss, they didn't wilt under the pressure for the most part.
"From the bench level, it was a pretty hard-fought game, and I think most of the guys were working hard, and Anaheim is a playoff-savvy team and had lost three of four, so you knew they were going to bring their A game," Tampa Bay coach Rick Tocchet said. "But I think it's a good lesson for some guys that if it's going to be a playoff game you have to raise your level, and this was a playoff-style.
"And if you don't have another gear, you're in trouble, and I thought for the most part (guys responded), but it's a lesson for certain guys that they have to prepare themselves. These are tough games, back-and-forth, you're going to have to take a punch in the mouth, take the cross-check in the back and dish it out in the other end, too."
After Steven Stamkos gave Tampa Bay the lead in the shootout by converting the first attempt, Anaheim rallied with tallies by Ryan Getzlaf and James Wisniewski, who also scored in regulation, to earn the valuable extra point.
Tampa Bay finished a four-game homestand by grabbing seven of a possible eight points and has moved into a tie with Philadelphia, Florida, the New York Rangers and Montreal for spots 7-11 in the Eastern Conference playoff standings. The extra point would have vaulted the Lightning into the seventh spot, but with a 2-7 record in shootouts, Tampa Bay has made a habit of leaving the extra point on the ice.
"I think it was a pretty good game, we got one point out of it, we've been playing pretty well lately, but we get one point out of it," goaltender Antero Niittymaki said.
"It was a good hockey game, and it (stinks) to only get one point, but that's the way shootouts are."
Tampa Bay got things going early when Stamkos dished to Marty St. Louis on a 2-on-1 for the opening goal at the 9:47 mark of the first period. But the momentum didn't carry over, and the Ducks began to push back.
While Niittymaki put in another strong performance, the Lightning offense wasn't able to give him enough support. Niittymaki had his career-best shutout streak of 146 minutes, 13 seconds snapped when Wisniewski skated down the back side and slipped a wrist shot in to the short side at the 6:36 mark of the second period.
After a suspect second period in which the Ducks had the run of play, Tampa Bay pulled things together and put in a better effort in the third and into overtime, outshooting Anaheim 15-11 in the final 25 minutes.
After Stamkos converted the first shootout attempt, Tampa Bay looked to be in good shape to post its first four-game winning streak since November 2007.
"We've got ourselves on a little bit of a roll, we gave ourselves a chance to get the two points, and then to lose it in a shootout, that's a tough way," Stamkos said.
"We'll take the point, but we need to get the two points in order to keep up with teams."