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Two-time Cup champion Lightning dealing with uncommon little bit of adversity | Sports



Steven Stamkos notices a distinct feeling across the Tampa Bay Lightning.

For a workforce accustomed to successful — not solely the Stanley Cup the previous two years however within the common season at a excessive stage — it has been a difficult few weeks. The back-to-back defending champions have misplaced 9 of their final 15 video games, with three separate three-game skids handing them the sort of adversity they haven’t skilled in fairly a while.

“It feels like every mistake right now is kind of ending up in the back of our net, so it’s tough not to get frustrated,” Stamkos mentioned Wednesday night time after a 4-3 loss at Washington. “We just have to continue to work our way through it. We have a lot of veteran leadership on this team that we know we can work our way out of it.”

The greater query is whether or not the Lightning can harness the precise classes from the previous month and apply them when the playoffs start in early May. After teaching Tampa Bay on a number of lengthy runs, lacking the postseason solely, enduring a shocking first-round sweep after which hoisting the Cup twice, Jon Cooper understands the reply gained’t be clear till after the common season.

“We can only wait and see if it’s going to help or not, but it tests you mentally and physically,” Cooper mentioned. “The boys have played a lot of hockey over the last couple years. And especially these last two months, we’ve asked a lot of them. Sometimes it becomes a little bit more than just the physical part of it.”

There has been some roster turnover, however many core gamers at the moment are 70 video games into one other common season after virtually 50 over the previous two playoffs mixed. No workforce has performed extra hockey since August 2020 than the Lightning.

With that comes fatigue but additionally the attitude of what the common season means within the grand scheme of attempting to win a championship. Players now have an excellent grip of that.

“There’s some uncomfortable moments for this group, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing,” Stamkos mentioned. “You want to try to work out the kinks as you go towards the playoffs. At the end of the day, that’s where teams are judged, right? You could have the best regular season in history, like we’ve shown, and it means nothing come playoff time.”

Winning the Presidents’ Trophy because the NHL’s high regular-season workforce in 2018-19 and setting a file for probably the most factors amassed did little for the Lightning after they had been swept by the Columbus Blue Jackets within the first spherical. That group confronted so little adversity till the playoffs that it lacked the power to deal with it.

The expertise of that sequence undoubtedly performed some position in Tampa Bay successful it all of the previous two years. But it’s not like gamers are merely writing off their latest performances considering they’ll flip a swap in opposition to Florida, Carolina or Boston when the playoffs begin.

“You always want to win games, and when it doesn’t go your way, maybe you’re second-guessing decisions on the ice and we don’t have time for that,” mentioned defenseman Victor Hedman, who was playoff MVP in 2020. “We want to go out there and execute and be clear in our minds in what we want to do. And when we’re clicking on all cylinders, we know we’re a tough team to beat. So for us it’s all about going out there with the confidence that we’re going to win games.”

The quick problem is a go to from the Bruins on Friday night time. The Lightning’s loss on the Capitals dropped them right into a wild card spot within the Eastern Conference, and whereas there are not any simple matchups, it’s not a spot they need to be in with out home-ice benefit.

Cooper known as it a “pivotal” recreation, and some extra prefer it stand in the best way earlier than Tampa Bay may even attempt for the three-peat.

“The boys got to dig in here,” he mentioned.

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Follow AP Hockey Writer Stephen Whyno on Twitter at https://twitter.com/SWhyno

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