After a long, emotional week in which the Lightning endured a change behind the bench, a sense of relief and focus returned to the team on Monday.
In the span of seven days, the Lightning fired head coach Guy Boucher, played one game with assistants in charge, named Jon Cooper the new coach, got in only one practice with Cooper and twice rallied from two goals down against New Jersey to give Cooper his first victory.
So, after a day off on Sunday, the Lightning got back to business at practice on Monday in hopes of notching a third consecutive victory – something Tampa Bay has not done since opening the season 6-1 – against the Florida Panthers on Tuesday.
The day off allowed Cooper to reflect on the changes, absorb the events of the previous seven days and look at the road ahead.
“I ate breakfast outside and then I tried to respond to the hundreds of text messages I have received,” Cooper said. “When I finally walked inside, I was burnt. I had to stay the rest of the day inside because I was, ‘Man, my head hurts.’ But it was a good hurt. It was great to be alone for a little while, gather my thoughts, take a breath and then prepare for what is ahead of us.’’
The same sense of renewal swept over many of the players, as well.
“Guys got to enjoy Easter with their families, have a couple of practices with Coop now where guys are understanding what is expected,’’ center Steven Stamkos said. “I think especially in the situation we are in right now, it was definitely a good thing.’’
Now comes the task at hand – trying to win some games.
Although Tampa Bay entered Monday in 14th place in the Eastern Conference, only four points separated the Lightning from the eighth and final playoff spot in the conference. With 14 games left on the schedule, stringing together victories would put Tampa Bay in the middle of that chase.
As usual, however, the focus is not on the peak of the mountain, but the next step up the hill.
“I think you need to break it down into small segments,” said center Nate Thompson, who will sit out Tuesday’s game while serving the first of a two-game suspension. “Don’t even look at the standings and take it one game at a time.’’
Cooper actually addressed that very subject when he met with the team for the first time after last week’s victory against Buffalo.
“You can’t get away from it totally, but we don’t want to concentrate ourselves on looking at where we are (in the standings). It’s just, ‘This is what we are going to work at today, this is our goal and let’s be better at that in the game.’
“And I like where all the players’ heads are at right now and how engaged they are and their emotion. To watch them go down twice in a game two goals down and come back two times, I kind of like that inner fire in them. So, we are just putting little pieces together. So, don’t look at the standings. Florida is next so let’s figure out how we are going to beat Florida.’’
SIGNINGS: Tampa Bay signed prospects LW Tanner Richard and D Luke Witkowski on Monday.
Richard, a third-round pick in the 2012 draft, signed a three-year entry level deal. Witkowski, a sixth round pick in the 2008 draft, just completed a four-year career at Western Michigan University.
Both will finish the season with Syracuse, Tampa Bay’s affiliate in the American Hockey League. Their contracts officially begin with the Lightning next season.