Push for postseason must start soon

Published January 8, 2007

TAMPA — The way Lightning coach John Tortorella answered, you would have thought the question was a no-brainer.

“Do I think we have a run in us? Absolutely,” he said.

If so, it better happen soon.

Tampa Bay is in an interesting place. It has not won more than three straight and has lost four in a row twice. Still, at 20-21-2, its 42 points are just two out of the East’s eighth and final playoff spot.

Nothing a good stretch of results wouldn’t cure, right?

“That doesn’t mean it needs to be a 20-game run,’’ goaltender Marc Denis said. “You don’t have to rip it apart for two months. But when you get three wins in a row and lose for whatever reason, you have to be able to come back with two or three wins. Now all of a sudden, you’re six of seven or seven of eight.’’

What will it take? Top of the list, better goaltending.

Entering Monday, the Lightning’s .879 save percentage was tied for last in the league.

“We just have to get to a point where goaltending issues are not questioned,’’ Denis said. “It’s better, but there’s still room for improvement.’’

It doesn’t just fall on Denis. Johan Holmqvist has had his ups and downs. But as Denis said, “I never look any further than in the mirror, and I never point fingers.

“I know people say it just has to be good enough, but it has to be a step further than that. You don’t have to necessarily stand on your head, but you have to come up with that one big save.’’

The team could use more balanced scoring. It had the league’s highest concentration of goals tied up in two players as Marty St. Louis and Vinny Lecavalier have scored 49 of 132 (37.1 percent).

That is noteworthy because there will be times they do not score. In Sunday’s victory over the Penguins, third-liners Ryan Craig and Nick Tarnasky were the only scorers before St. Louis’ goal won the shootout.

The Lightning also must play better at the St. Pete Times Forum, where it is 10-11 and tonight faces the Penguins.

Defenseman Dan Boyle said perhaps the team should look at the season in three-game increments “and try to win two out of three from here on out.’’

Wing Vinny Prospal said the focus should be narrower: “We have to take one game at a time.’’

Whatever the parameters, “How you make a run is with a level of desperation,’’ Tortorella said. “A certain percentage of our players have the right desperation. It’s going to take a higher percentage to make a run.’’

Damian Cristodero can be reached at cristodero@sptimes.com or (727) 893-8622. View his blog at lightning. tampabay.com.