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Thursday, Jul 24, 2014
Tampa Bay Lightning

Lightning looking to settle things down

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TAMPA — The tumult of the previous two days for the Lightning settled down Friday.

The dust from the trade of Marty St. Louis cleared. Steven Stamkos made his long-awaited return to the ice as the newly appointed captain. And newest team member Ryan Callahan moved past his debut appearance.

With all that in the past, the focus switches to improving the present to ensure the playoffs remain in the future.

“Now that the (trade) deadline is over ... we can focus,” goaltender Ben Bishop said. “We don’t have the distraction of, what is going on with your captain or what is not going to happen with your captain.

“So, now that all that is over with, we know the end result, we know this is going to be the team the rest of the way. We just have to play our hearts out and earn a playoff spot.’’

In the first year of realignment, eight teams from each conference will make the playoffs: the top three teams in each division, plus two wild cards.

The Lightning have 19 games remaining. They currently hold the top wild-card spot in the Eastern Conference, one point behind Toronto for third place in the Atlantic Division and four points ahead of ninth place in the conference heading into today’s game against the Boston Bruins.

With three wins in the past 11 games, however, a spot in the postseason is a bit more tenuous than it was Jan. 7 — the day St. Louis was left off the Canadian Olympic roster by general manager Steve Yzerman and reportedly asked for a trade. Back then, Tampa Bay’s cushion over the ninth-place team was nine points.

So, with all the drama now in the rearview mirror, the focus is clearly on righting the ship to get back to the way Tampa Bay played in the first half of the season.

“It’s been a whirlwind, but this is now the group that we are moving forward with,’’ said Stamkos, who reported no pain or discomfort in his right leg the morning after his first game since breaking the tibia four months ago.

“But we have been in a little bit of a rut, and it’s not fun when you are not winning. ... This is a true character test for our team right now.’’

Callahan, who served as captain for the New York Rangers before being acquired Wednesday in the St. Louis trade, wants to help steer things back on track.

“When I found out I was coming here, I was excited; this is a good organization, a good team that’s in the playoff hunt,’’ Callahan said. “It’s a fun group to play with, good guys in there. And as the game went on, I got more and more comfortable with who I played with. ... And then to get in a practice under your belt, that makes it easier.’’

Coach Jon Cooper spent a good portion of practice on getting players to the front of the net and winning 50/50 battles. It was a day to get back to work, make corrections and figure out the best line combinations.

“The trade, the new captaincy, the new players coming in, that was big news,” Cooper said, “but it’s probably a non-factor now, so that’s good for us. It’s back to work time now, so it will be good.

“We have to start winning now.’’

INJURY UPDATE: Defenseman prospect Slater Koekkoek, the 10th pick in the 2012 draft, will miss the rest of the season with Windsor of the Ontario Hockey League with a dislocated right shoulder that will require surgery. He was hurt during a fight. Koekkoek was shut down the past two seasons for surgery to repair a torn labrum in his left shoulder.

eerlendsson@tampatrib.com

(813) 259-7835

Twitter: @erlendssonTBO

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