Lightning’s strong character plays key role in helping team remain focused on making playoffs despite off-ice distractions
The one element Tampa Bay Lightning head coach Guy Boucher was most impressed with following Thursday night’s 6-5 overtime win against the San Jose Sharks wasn’t Victor Hedman’s deft centering feed from behind the net that set up Martin St. Louis’ game-winning goal, or the goal itself, placed perfectly above the left shoulder of opposing goaltender Antti Niemi.
Rather, it was the way Tampa Bay maintained its focus and responded just minutes after learning that center Dominic Moore had been traded to San Jose and that an additional trade scenario involving defenseman Pavel Kubina was also potentially in the works.
Not to mention, following 60 minutes of play, the Lightning had endured seven lead changes, faced a total of 50 opposing shots on goal and still managed to come away with two points to keep their postseason hopes in the Eastern Conference playoff race alive.
The Bolts head coach added that he was not surprised by the team's effort, but at the same time, admitted that he had a degree of uncertainty regarding how the game would play out, especially when taking into account the off-ice distractions that had made for such a whirlwind of emotions earlier in the day.
"Honestly, you're just hoping that you're strong enough mentally to get through it," Boucher added.
Tampa Bay once again proved that it was, as adversity has been nothing new for the Lightning this season, thus further revealing its mettle.
In fact, as difficult as it was for Boucher and several of his players to accept the reality of both Kubina's and Moore's absence in the locker room and in the lineup alike, a few Bolts in particular saw the situation as a rallying cry to come together and pay attention to the task at hand rather than having outside influence stray them from the course.
"It's always hard when you lose a teammate, but it's one of those things that you have to forget about when it's time for the game," forward Nate Thompson said. "We know we're fighting for our lives right now, so you have to look at yourself and step up and help each other out, and I think that we did that."
Boucher also stated that prior to Thursday’s game versus San Jose, he held a closed-door team meeting following the morning skate to remind players of just what it is they’re after.
While he addressed the situation regarding any potential roster moves with certain veterans, the purpose of the gathering was more to keep the players focused on what is within their own control.
“The reality is that it can’t affect what we do,” Boucher said. “We talk about the plan a lot, whether it’s short-term, medium-term or long-term. But for me, right now, there’s only one plan and that’s to win every day.”
Boucher’s message was received loud and clear, in particular by St. Louis, who after the game, echoed his coach’s sentiments.
“When the puck drops, you got to go play," St. Louis said. “At the end of the day, we’re still going to fight, regardless of what’s going on around us. You have to. If we throw in the towel because of what’s going on around us it’s going to be a pretty miserable last two months.”
"Giving up are two words that don’t exist in my vocabulary,” Boucher added. “It’s totally against my nature. It’s not about how many times we fall or what happens to us, it’s really how we react to it and how we get up. We’re fighting and you can really see the character of our club.”