While the talk around the locker room and from the coaching staff is about keeping their playoffs hopes alive, reality dictates otherwise. With 11 games left, Tampa Bay is all but mathematically eliminated from contention. Just one win in the past six games – since the loss of goaltender Mathieu Garon to a partially torn groin muscle – has the Lightning down to 12th in the Eastern Conference standings heading into tonight's game against Buffalo, just two points from last place.
Trying to ignore reality will not be easy during the final three weeks of the season. "It's never going to be easy, but we're not giving up,'' right wing Teddy Purcell said. "It's easier to get down on ourselves and easy to pull the tent in, but you really show who you are when you have some adversity and have a tough hill to climb. Going through this will hopefully make us better in the end; make us stronger players and people. It's never fun, but you just have to battle through it and stay positive.''
Tampa Bay had hope as recently as a week ago, starting a seven-game homestand against Carolina. But a loss to the Hurricanes and consecutive losses to Toronto and St. Louis seem to have zapped most of the optimism and overall enthusiasm out of the room. For a team decimated by injuries to captain Vinny Lecavalier, top defenseman Mattias Ohlund and the seemingly devastating loss of Garon, it didn't help seeing Nate Thompson leave Thursday's game against Toronto and Ryan Shannon leave Saturday's loss to St. Louis. Thompson missed Saturday's game and both are expected to miss tonight's.
"It's the image of our season and it's tough, it's tough,'' Lightning head coach Guy Boucher said. "It's one thing after the other and it becomes heavy. We are trying to make it as light as possible for the players and everybody." With all that has occurred in the past two weeks – a tough loss at Washington when leading entering the third period and injuries to key players – the battle down the stretch is more mental than physical. "It's a mental battle, that's all it is and it's in your head,''
"You have to make sure you are telling yourself that in your head and in your heart there is always a way and you have to keep fighting," said defenseman Brendan Mikkelson, who scored his first career NHL goal on Saturday. "You can never quit because you don't know what happens around the league, you don't know what things will go on.
So packing the tent wouldn't be anything like this group and it's not what we are going to do at all."That never quit attitude, that never say die attitude means we are always going to battle right to the end.'' Even though for all intensive purposes their chances of making the playoffs are extremely slim, at best.