St. Petersburg Times
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Learning from mistakes a must for a playoff push

Mental errors are hurting the Lightning as it reaches crucial point of the season.

By DAMIAN CRISTODERO, Times Staff Writer
© St. Petersburg Times
published January 28, 2003

PHILADELPHIA -- How hard did the Lightning take Saturday's 3-2 loss to the Predators? Two days later, players were still talking about it.

Not only during Monday's video session with the coaching staff, during which mistake upon mistake was exposed, but amongst themselves.

"We were so disappointed," left wing Andre Roy said. "It was our toughest loss. Ottawa 7-0 was not as bad as the loss in Nashville. The score looked worse, but this one hurt more."

On so many levels.

The Lightning allowed two goals in 97 seconds in the third period and lost a 2-1 lead because of missed defensive assignments, the lack of big saves and, probably most distressing, what players and coaches called a lack of awareness and concentration during a crucial time of the game.

It also wasted Friday night's impressive victory over the Stars and, entering Monday, Tampa Bay was five points behind first-place Washington in the Southeast. And though the Lightning's 51 points tied the Islanders and Penguins for the East's final two playoff spots, Tampa Bay was 10th in the conference, two spots out of the playoffs, because it had fewer victories.

"Just an awful loss because of our situational play," coach John Tortorella said.

"We're losing games and losing points because the concentration level is inconsistent," goaltender Nikolai Khabibulin said. "We may concentrate for 15 minutes and we get a 30-second break where we're not concentrating when it costs us a goal. As it gets later in the season, it becomes harder and harder to get those goals back."

And it is becoming harder and harder not to see the situation as desperate.

Beginning with tonight's game against the Flyers at the First Union Center, the Lightning has 32 games remaining in the regular season. It must win 18 to get to 87 points, the total the Canadiens used last season to secure the final playoff spot in the East.

"We've got to find some consistency," Tortorella said. "Those games go so quickly now. Every team has to make a run if you want to be where you want to be. It's a matter of mentally accepting the challenge to do it consistently. We still are up and down, and that has to change."

"It's February and March, two months," defenseman Pavel Kubina said. "We have to go on a little bit of a run."

The Lightning, which has not won back-to-back games since Dec. 29, is not going to do much if it does not overcome its uneven approach to games.

Imagine where the team would be had it brought the same consistent effort to games against the Thrashers (an overtime loss), the Canadiens (an unsatisfying tie at home) and Predators as it had in victories over the Red Wings, Senators and Stars.

Count the four points left on the table and do the math.

"We have to focus on what is going on," Khabibulin said. "We have to have a high level of concentration to where we don't make these mistakes. Whatever it takes, we have to do."

Such as:

-- Improve communication between players: The lack of it between defenseman Dan Boyle and right wing Martin St. Louis helped Nashville score the tying goal.

-- Be more aware of defensive assignments: A blown one by defenseman Darren Rumble led to the winning goal.

-- Lend a hand: Tortorella bemoaned the fact that Lightning players did not adequately cover for teammates when mistakes were made.

-- Get big saves: Khabibulin's teammates put him in difficult situations, but it is his job to bail them out.

"It's a matter of accepting the responsibility of what you have to do as a player, individually and collectively as a team, to battle to get to where we want to be," Tortorella said. "If they're not willing to accept that, we will be 14th or 15th (in the conference) again. Same old story."

A consequence no one on the Lightning wants to think about.

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