Lightning does not panic despite hitting rough patches

It would be enough to panic to see your three best forwards fail a motivational strategy, then lose by 6-0 against one of your top rivals for conference supremacy. But when you’re the class of the Eastern Conference like the Tampa Bay Lightning, winning finds a way to cure all, and though they just went through a weekend for hell, count the three-time conference champion out at your own peril.

Jon Cooper, Lightning head coach, benched Steven Stamkos for the third period. Saturday’s 5-3 loss to the SabresWe believe that the superstar trio is our best hope. wasn’t putting the team in the best position to win. This rationale could’ve been easily manipulated, but Cooper is one of the most transparent quotes in the league and explained that the standard is the standard, regardless of your resume.

“This team’s been unbelievable for a decade,” Lightning head coach Jon Cooper said of his decision to bench his star forwards. “You will take the finals. It’s not accidental that this happened. Everybody follows a set of guidelines. It is not a pick-and-choose system. It’s everybody.”

Cooper’s decision didn’t pay immediate dividends — the following night, Carolina dominated Tampa Bay It was a victory of 6-0, but it may have more to say about the Hurricanes’ clinical defense More information about the Lightning as a whole is available. Tampa Bay was able to score just 14 goals, but this team is full of the confidence it has gained from years past.

“We’re in a rut right now, and at some point you’ve just got to work your way out of it,” Cooper said following Sunday’s blowout loss. “Guys are used to following a routine. They are used to playing, and when it gets off-color, they start to question themselves.

“We’re not being able to execute right now and it’s slowing us down. We as coaches have to instill confidence in our players. We have a veteran group, so we’ll all be fine.”

Tampa Bay’s stars — yes, the ones getting benched — along with Victor Hedman (more on him below) and Andrei Vasilevskiy are often cited as the primary reasons behind the dynasty. Under Cooper’s supervision, the Lightning’s calling card often has been its lineup flexibility, as they’ve moved Stamkos and Point all over the lineup in order to provide the forward groups with different looks, banging away until a combination sticks. The Bolts can not only slide Stamkos or Point through the top scoring lines but they can also move around Alex Killorn and defensive stalwart Anthony Cirelli throughout the lineup. Cooper has plenty of time to experiment with his lines, and the league’s playoff format is doing him some favors.

The Lightning are struggling through a five-game losing streak, but the three-time Eastern Conference champions aren't concerned about their long-term success. (Getty Images)

The Lightning are currently in a losing streak of five games, but they aren’t worried about their long-term success. (Getty Images)

If there is no further disaster, the Lightning will meet the Maple Leafs at the first round. This will be the second consecutive year. Setting aside the fact that both teams are using the final 19 games of the regular season to test out their optimal lineups, there’s virtually nothing to lose. Tampa Bay will eventually snap out of its tailspin and then tailor its game plan to suppress Toronto’s slightly superior shot-creation. Both teams were considered evenly matched in last season’s seven-game championship. In that game, depth forward Nick Paul was the unexpected hero and scored a brace to help the Lightning win. 2-1 Game 7 victory. This year, the Maple Leafs and the Lightning are once again as evenly matched as it gets, and Toronto will likely have home-ice advantage again and a five-game losing skid in the regular season isn’t going to rattle a group that has won the conference three years running.

It’s not like Tampa Bay’s star forward trio have played poorly this season, either. Kucherov ranks third in NHL scoring Point, who has 88 points, is 16th with 73, and Stamkos, 27th with 65. Point is one of the top-10 individual scoring opportunity creators at 5-on-5, while Killorn and Nick Paul, Ross Colton, have provided the ancillary score that was expected. It’s way too early to write the Lightning off.

If there is one legitimate area of concern, it’s Victor Hedman’s injury status. Hedman got awkwardly tangled up with Hurricanes forward Andrei Svechnikov, left Sunday’s game, returned for one shift before exiting the contest for good. Hedman isn’t playing at a Norris level this year and you could argue that Mikhail Sergachev is Tampa Bay’s best defender at the moment, but he still provides elite offense for his position and has been a staple of the dynasty. Hedman will be re-evaluated Monday, and if he’s alright for the playoffs, we don’t anticipate any major cracks in the armor.

Andrei Vasilevskiy is the Lightning’s trump card. Boston’s Linus Ullmark is the runaway Vezina favourite this season and New York’s Igor Shesterkin took the award last year, but on any given day, Vasilevskiy is still the best goaltender in the world. Vasilevskiy is sixth in goals saved beyond expected via MoneyPuck, and he’d be the near-unanimous choice for the goalie you’d want during a playoff game. Vasilevskiy won the Conn Smythe Trophy in 2021 and he can turn his game up to a new level at a moment’s notice. You can bench the top three forwards but “Vasi” will always find a way to bail his team out — it’s often been remarked that it’s unfair that a team as talented as the Lightning also boast a world-class goaltender in the prime of his career. Vasilevskiy is always there to help you when the sky seems dark.

Five consecutive losses would be troubling for any team. But the Lightning have the championship resolve few other teams have and a playoff opponent written in stone. We’ll see what happens this spring but if the Lightning defeat the Maple Leafs again, this March skid will reveal itself as an aberration.

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