Tampa Bay Lightning Battle Through Rare Rough Stretch During Season-Long Trip

The way this season has gone, a Lightning losing streak is something that raises eyebrows. Heck, losing consecutive games in regulation serves as grounds for pause. After all, that is something that did not happen through the team’s first 56 games.

A swing through western Canada last week changed that. During a season-long six-game trip that opened with a win in Chicago and concludes Wednesday night in Seattle, Tampa Bay lost three straight for the first time since the end of the 2020-21 season. In so doing, the Lightning were outscored 15-6 in losses to Winnipeg, Calgary and Edmonton, though coach Jon Cooper liked many things he saw in 4-1 setbacks against the Flames and Oilers.

Not that the local spotlight glared upon Cooper’s team. With spring training finally getting underway and Tom Brady emerging from his winter break at the beginning of spring break, the fact the Lightning actually lost three straight more than 2,000 miles away from home was something that barely registered by comparison.

The skid, which came to an end in a hard-fought 2-1 win at Vancouver on Sunday night, was not one that should have been grounds for angst to begin with. Trips through the western Canadian provinces have caused problems for many teams before and will again.

Furthermore, the two-time defending Cup champs are largely a veteran club whose locker room is loaded with accountability. Hence, panic is not something they do. They are not the two-time defending Cup champs by accident.

Frequent first-period woes, though, have been a problem, especially of late. In a reversal of fortune, the Lightning struck twice in the opening 20 minutes against the Canucks. Defense, checking and the usual stellar goaltending from Andrei Vasilevskiy superbly took care of matters over the final two periods.

Not that it was easy. Tampa Bay held on amid the challenges of tired legs on the back end of back-to-back games, the loss of an hour with clocks springing forward and a delayed charter that resulted in arriving in Vancouver from Edmonton mere hours before puck drop.

While the itinerary may have been messy, the Lightning cleaned up a lot of details after often getting in their own way in losing to the Jets, Flames and Oilers before landing in BC

“When things aren’t going well for you, you invent ways to shoot yourself in the foot,” said Cooper, following Saturday evening’s 4-1 loss in Edmonton. “Whether it is turnovers or taking to many pens, we are finding ways to on this trip to make it hard on ourselves.”

While the Lightning lost consecutive games in regulation for the first time this season, they maintained their remarkable record in the second game of back-to-backs. They are a puzzling 1-7-0 on the front end, yet the win over the Canucks upped their mark to 7-0-1 on the back side.

“That says a lot about the character in the locker room,” said Victor Hedman. “We are up for the challenge, whatever it is. I know how proud we are, and we want to try to win every game. Sometimes you go through (tough) stretches…..so for us to bounce back was huge.”

Hedman is a big reason why the Lightning have managed to avoid many tough stretches the past couple of years. In addition to his world-class play in his own zone, he has had a major impact offensively. Through Monday, he was tied for third among defensemen in both points (58) and goals (15) and was fifth in assists (43). The 31-year-old is on pace to top his career highs in points (72) and goals (17), both established in 2017-18.

Hedman has had ample help on a unit that has been making a difference on the scoreboard. The defense has piled up 145 points, fourth most in the league through Monday.

Mikhail Sergachev has done his part as he continues to develop into a top-flight defenseman. The 23-year-old is second to Hedman among the team’s blueliners with 31 points and three of his five goals came in a recent four-game stretch, serving as nice rewards for his defensive diligence.

“Sergy has really turned into a premier two-way defenseman, but in the end, they want to see their name on the score sheet, and I don’t blame them,” said Cooper, following a March 4 game against Detroit in which Sergachev had the game-winning goal. “When it does happen, you are being rewarded for hard work and things you have done in the past.”

Hard work certainly has not been an issue for the Lightning. There’s no rest for the weary, though. After they host the Rangers on Saturday night, it is back on the road for a four-game trip, though without leaving the country or the time zone — and hopefully, for their sake, without flight-related issues. Tampa Bay then has 11 home games in April with which to look forward to.

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