CALGARY - When they look behind, they see reason for hope.
When they consider where they have been, their faith is reassured. When they talk about the past, they believe in their future.
There's just one problem.
Lightning players are running out of time. The past can do nothing for them if they do not seize today.
For the fifth time in nine games, the Lightning has lost. And for the second time in a week, it is trailing in a series.
Your heart probably is telling you the Lightning can recover, but history is calling you a fool.
You see, winning Saturday night's Game 3 was not merely an important task. It was darn near an imperative for a hopeful team.
The Stanley Cup final has been tied after two games 24 times previously. The winner of Game 3 has won the Cup 21 times, including the past six.
Those are not numbers to be ignored. They suggest momentum is a factor when the hour gets late. They indicate it is difficult to win three of four when only two teams are left standing.
"We're down 2-1, it's not the end of the world," defenseman Dan Boyle said. "This team has come back before, we can do it again."
It is true, the Lightning has answered without fail. Five previous times Tampa Bay has lost in the postseason, and five times it has won the next game.
It could not clinch in Game 6 against Philadelphia but still won the series. It did not take the opener against Calgary but came back to get a split at home. Now it has failed to win a pivotal Game 3 and is being asked, again, to show us the depth of its spirit.
But at some point, it ceases to be an example of your resilience. Eventually, you discover you have pushed your luck too far.
"We're not doing the things we're used to doing," forward Tim Taylor said. "It was like we didn't want to score. Like we were afraid to take a chance."
There was much the Lightning did well. It controlled the first period. It knocked Calgary off stride. It even saw its cover boy, Vinny Lecavalier, drop his gloves to take on Jarome Iginla.
What the Lightning failed to do was the one thing that has separated it from everyone else the past seven months. It could not beat a goaltender.
"I thought we had chances to get that first goal," coach John Tortorella said. "We didn't get it done."
It is the time of year when games are won by big players making big plays. Just like Martin St. Louis in the first series, Lecavalier in the second, and Brad Richards in the third. It is hard to argue these young forwards already have not raised their profiles in the postseason.
St. Louis is no longer a cute story, but a legitimate force. Richards is less a complimentary piece and more an emerging star. Lecavalier has tapped the potential that once seemed suppressed.
They all have done so much. And now they have more to do.
They should know, today, that the air changes this late in the season. It grows thin and makes breathing a chore.
They should understand, today, that opportunities grow rare. That scoring chances can not be left wanting.
"We had a lot of chances," Boyle said. "A few guys in this room are going to be kicking themselves over chances they missed. I had one, and I didn't get it done. Those are the reasons you lose."
Richards had a breakaway in the second period that could have changed the game. The score was tied and the moment was ripe. Coming from the left of the net, he could not slip it past Miikka Kiprusoff.
Less than a minute later, the Flames scored.
"You could just tell that nothing good was going to come out of that," Richards said. "In hockey, when you miss a chance like that, you can almost feel the momentum go the other way. You just had the sense they'd score."
This is what the Lightning must recognize. That the door to victory is never opened wide. It is revealed by a crack, and only for a moment.
That is why it is not nearly enough to be heartened by Tampa Bay's effort. It is no solace to consider the number of chances.
Because, if you go by the number of shots, Tampa Bay has dominated. The problem is the scoreboard says otherwise.
It has not mattered that the Lightning has taken 76 shots to Calgary's 56. It has not mattered that Calgary has yet to take 20 shots in a game or has been outshot in all three games.
"We had a couple of odd-man rushes and couldn't score," Taylor said. "They had two and scored both times.
"It's like we're thinking a little too much. We need to get back to playing on instincts. It's almost like we were in the past with (Dominik) Hasek. We're letting them get into our heads. We need to forget about everything else and just be aggressive, start getting some dirty goals."