In the not-so-distant past, Ottawa and Tampa Bay were Stanley Cup contenders. Sunday night, they both played like the playoff pretenders indicative of their respective records.
In a game that required an extra couple stops at the coffee shop, Ottawa provided just enough of a jolt to come out with a 3-0 victory on goals by Dany Heatley, Ryan Shannon and Jason Spezza. Brian Elliott stopped 20 shots for his first career shutout.
The Lightning were shut out for the fifth time this season, but the first since Dec. 13, which also came against Ottawa. Tampa Bay's last home shutout loss came on Oct. 25 against San Jose.
After falling behind 2-0 in a first period in which the Lightning held a 12-8 shot advantage, Tampa Bay didn't put up much of a fight to get back into the game, mustering only eight shots on goal during the final two periods.
Suffering through a stretch of one victory in the past seven games (1-3-3) can make it a difficult enough task to find the necessary emotion and motivation for a full game, even for the most professional players.
"I guess it's human nature when there is not too much on the line that there are going to be some plays where you don't do like you would in a game that means more," said Lightning goaltender Karri Ramo, who made 26 saves while suffering his first regulation loss since March 7. "It makes it tough, but I can't control anybody else, only myself. My goal is to try to improve every game."
But the radar of Lightning interim coach Rick Tocchet remains out as the games wind down.
"I'm still looking for guys who are competing and we have six games left, so time is running out for a lot of guys," he said.
Tocchet is also looking for some guys who play the game in the same hard-nosed manner as he did during his 18 seasons, something he pointed out when Ottawa agitator Jarkko Ruutu submarined Ryan Craig late in the game, a play on which he spoke to the on-ice officials about at length.
"Craig's had two knee operations, so I don't think that was professional," Tocchet said. "I have a suit on so I can't do anything about it. I wish I didn't have a suit on."