Lightning prepare for tough stretch with top teams in Central division


TAMPA, Fla. (WFLA) — The Lightning are tied atop the Central Division standings with the Florida Panthers and Carolina Hurricanes, who all have 58 points.

Now begins a stretch where the Bolts play two games with the Panthers, followed by two with the Hurricanes. They are critical games for all three teams as the regular season comes to a close in less than 4 weeks.

For the Lightning to get through these next 4 games, in particular, they need to bring a much better performance than they turned in Tuesday, in their worst loss of the season.

Lightning Head Coach Jon Cooper said the team needs to turn the page, after giving up a season-high 7 goals to the Nashville Predators. There’s a sense of urgency at this point of the season, but nothing they can’t turn around.

“There’s fixable things that are happening here,” Cooper said. “But it comes down to– and I think [Victor Hedman] alluded to it– some of the vets, some of the guys that have been around before have got to corral that locker room and make sure everyone’s pulling in the right direction.”

Lightning defenseman Victor Hedman is one of those veterans who’s making sure his teammates understand the errors that need to be corrected, and said that the onus is heavy on himself to help get this team back to playing its best hockey.

“It starts with us as leaders on this team,” Hedman said. “We’ve got to do a better job of eliminating those grade-A’s and odd-man rushes that we gave up last game. That’s kind of been the message going into tonight’s game against a very good team.”

The Lightning are facing the Panthers for the fifth time this season Thursday night, when they open this 6-game homestand.

Lightning captain Steven Stamkos and Jan Rutta were not out on the ice at Thursday’s morning skate, but Nikita Kucherov was out there getting some work in. Cooper says Stamkos is not expected to play against the Panthers and the team will see where he is after Saturday’s game.

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