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Lightning set for first test of fortitude

After string of wins, how will Tampa Bay rebound after loss?

By DAMIAN CRISTODERO, Times Staff Writer
© St. Petersburg Times
published October 28, 2002

SUNRISE -- So much was made of the Lightning's opening seven-game unbeaten streak, it seems almost silly to make a big deal out of one loss.

Still, Saturday's 5-1 reality check from the Devils was harsh enough that it created an intriguing storyline for tonight's game against the Panthers at the Office Depot Center.

"Oh, sure," said coach John Tortorella when asked if he was anxious to see how Tampa Bay would respond, especially after coming off the high of being, for four days, the NHL's only unbeaten team.

"It's easy to come back and play when you keep winning. It's how you answer when you lose. I'm anxious to see how our team reacts, and I think it will be in a positive way."

Lightning players know the drill.

"As much as you look at this as a loss and a disappointment, we have to look forward and try to start another streak like we had," defenseman Jassen Cullimore said. "You have to learn from your mistakes but not harp on them."

Others will take care of that.

Tampa Bay needs to better control the puck. That means reducing turnovers at the offensive blue line that for a second consecutive game hindered its attack. It means bettering the 44-percent winning percentage on faceoffs that kept Tampa Bay scrambling for the puck against the Devils.

The Lightning also must remember, thanks to its high-flying start (the unbeaten streak tied a team record), opponents will take them seriously, meaning the forecheck it will face and battles for the puck will be more intense. And it must respond accordingly.

And Tampa Bay must find someone who can efficiently and consistently run the power play from the point: a quarterback. Tampa Bay has 11 power-play goals, second-best in the league entering Sunday's games, but has converted only two of its past 19. Four chances Saturday created little offense, and the Lightning's efficiency fell to 18.6 percent (11-for-59), 15th in the league.

Much of what went wrong Saturday was because of what went right for the Devils. New Jersey, which finished No. 1 in the East, played its best game of the season.

"They're a lot different team than they were last year," left wing Dave Andreychuk said. "Not as big, but a quick team. They got on top of us and we made some mistakes that cost us goals."

The season is a long haul, and chances are that will happen again. That is why Tortorella said the Lightning cannot go into "panic mode," especially when the team is 5-1-2 and leading the Southeast.

"That's what we've been talking about all this time," he said. "You can't get too excited about what you're doing when you're winning, and you can't be devastated about when you lose either. You've got to try to keep this on an even keel. We have seven months of hockey to play. We have a long way to go."

Helping Tampa Bay through its seven-game streak was an ability to reverse a game's momentum. Tampa Bay gained points in five games in which it trailed. It overcame two-goal deficits in three games.

"That's what's great. We're going to come back and play within another 24 hours, and it's how we respond," Tortorella said. "Our team has shown some resiliency through the beginning of the year, and I'm sure that's what we'll see when we go out to Florida."

As defenseman Dan Boyle said of outshooting the Devils 8-6 in the third, "We played well. Hopefully, we can keep that going."

"The main thing to focus on in this (locker) room is to battle back right away, start another streak," Andreychuk said. "Good teams don't let things slide. They get back on track."

Not so silly after all.

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