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It's a love-hate thing

By DAMIAN CRISTODERO

© St. Petersburg Times, published December 19, 2000


ANAHEIM, Calif. -- Somber would be a good way to describe the Lightning locker room at Arrowhead Pond after Sunday night's 3-1 loss to the Mighty Ducks.

There was no music, and not much chatter, as the players showered and dressed for the bus ride to the airport and the chartered plane that would take them back to Tampa after a four-game road trip.

But the quiet was not peaceful.

Struggles are taking place. They are not divisive, and they do not pit player against player. They pit each player against himself.

"We have to hate losing so much that you are going to do all the little things you need to do -- being strong on the boards, taking a hit to make a play, block a shot," forward Martin St. Louis said.

"You have to hate losing so much you will do anything to win."

Forward Ryan Johnson took it a step further.

"I don't feel collectively we hate to lose," he said. "On the other side of it, I don't think we love to win as much as we should. We've got to quit accepting being an average team that wins once every four or five games. It's not acceptable."

These emotions have cropped up before among the players. This night they were more pointed, maybe because of what had been at stake. Yes, the game was just one of 82. But Tampa Bay had a chance to really accomplish something and couldn't pull it off.

A win would have ended the trip at 2-1-1 and given Tampa Bay five points out of a possible eight. That would have been a huge lift going into a six-game homestand.

Instead, the Lightning finished 1-2-1. That's not terrible. But considering the tie the Lightning fought so hard to forge against the Avalanche and the energy it showed in Saturday night's 4-3 victory over the Kings, it was a blow.

Maybe, Johnson said, the way the players handled that victory was the problem.

"After (Saturday night), it was like a loss," he said of the locker room. "There was no music, no atmosphere. If you're not excited about (a victory), it's not going to be something you want to do. It won't become a habit."

It's the difference, goaltender Kevin Weekes said, between liking to win and loving it.

"If you love to win, that means you appreciate everything it takes to win and then actually doing it," he said. "Look at the Chicago Bulls, the Lakers, the Yankees. People think it's because of payroll. But those guys make sacrifices. They are dedicated. They do what it takes to win."

Said Johnson: "It's appreciating the effect and how you get it." General manager Rick Dudley calls that "passion" for the game, something he said has been inconsistent among some of his "high end" players. The team dealt with that to a certain extent when it benched forward Todd Warriner on Saturday night.

Such a move will be easier to make as the Lightning increases its minor-league depth. The team had zero depth last season -- zero -- which meant there was no push from below.

"There is a fine line between accountability and confidence," Dudley said. "People have to understand that you can make mistakes, but if you don't show that passion, there has to be consequences."

As coach Steve Ludzik said, "They'd better (hate losing). I hope they hate it as much as I do."

THE ROAD RULES: The Lightning has played 19 of its 31 games away from home. That's about half of its 41-game road schedule in less than three months of a seven-month season. Only the Blackhawks, with 20, have played more road games.

Tampa Bay players and coaches are thrilled their next six games are at home, beginning with Thursday's matchup with the Penguins. Not only will sleeping at home be a nice change, the Lightning is 7-4-1 at the Ice Palace, 3-12-2-2 on the road.

A SPECIAL TIME: The Lightning hosts a dinner and Christmas party tonight at the Ice Palace for 30 families of Camp Good Days and Special Times Inc., a camp for children with cancer.

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