tampabay.com

Unfazed Lightning looks only to future

By TOM JONES
Published April 13, 2006


TAMPA - Lightning coach John Tortorella did not go home Tuesday night. Instead, he spent the night in his office watching the video of Tampa Bay's 6-2 loss to the Thrashers that has turned the playoff race into a can of sardines.

Then, at noon Wednesday, Tortorella held a nothing-off-limits meeting with what he called the "core of the team" - about a dozen players who have been through the rise and current fall of the Lightning. After it was over, Tortorella seemed more optimistic than ever that the Lightning will make the playoffs.

"We're going to get it done," he said.

The Lightning could have gained a playoff spot with two victories against Florida on Sunday and the Thrashers on Tuesday. But the Lightning suffered demoralizing back-to-back losses. Still, Tortorella is strangely optimistic.

"I feel good," a smiling Tortorella said. "No one is going to get me down."

Tampa Bay holds the eighth and final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference and has three games left. Atlanta, four points back, has four games left. Toronto, five points back, also has four games to play.

Essentially, the Lightning's magic number is four against Atlanta and three against the Maples Leafs. That means any points gained by the Lightning or not gained by the Thrashers that equals four (three for the Leafs) would put the Lightning in the playoffs for the third consecutive season. "We still control our destiny," Tortorella said.

But with Atlanta facing a light schedule (Boston, Florida and Washington twice), the Lightning might be forced to win two of its final three games (two against Southeast-leading Carolina and the finale against Washington) to make the postseason. And nothing from the past two games indicates the Lightning can win two of three.

"We just have to forget about what has happened and concentrate on what's ahead," center Tim Taylor said after Tuesday's loss. "Yes, this was a game we wanted to win, but we didn't and now we simply have to move on. And we will."

Tortorella said Tuesday that the Lightning looked like "deer in the headlights" and "afraid something bad would happen" whenever something went wrong against Atlanta. While he would not divulge the details of Wednesday's meeting, he did say team confidence is not an issue and he's convinced the Lightning will get into the playoffs.

"They're good people," Tortorella said. "They understand what is going on. They've been through pressure games before. We've been through a lot tougher situations than this in our past, not only when we (won the Stanley Cup), but this season.

"I know there are doubters ... but we're not going to get down by what is being said on the outside. We will get it done."