TAMPA -- In the middle of a seven-game losing streak, their longest of the season, the Tampa Bay Lightning are fighting the urge to hang their heads, but as they look forward now, they come face-to-face with the formidable Boston Bruins.
Boston, the defending Stanley Cup champion, comes calling Tuesday night for the first time this season as the Bruins face the Lightning at the Tampa Bay Times Forum.
For Tampa Bay, beset with key injuries and shaky goaltending, the timing couldn't be worse. The defensive corps, particularly, has been decimated. Defensive stalwart Mattias Ohlund has not appeared in a game yet this season after surgery to both knees, Victor Hedman will miss his 10th consecutive game with a concussion, Marc-Andre Bergeron will sit out with a bad back and penalty-kill and faceoff specialist Adam Hall is still sidelined with an upper-body injury.
Other players expected to miss action include Dana Tyrell and Ryan Shannon, both with upper-body injuries, and JT Wyman with a lower-body injury.
Lightning coach Guy Boucher has worked at adjusting his players' expectations going forwarded.
"Expectations have to match the circumstances," Boucher said. "We have to fight. The shame doesn't come from losing, it comes from not fighting. That's an attitude. You can be disappointed, but you can't let that bring you down.
"It's not about the entire season and it's not about the playoffs and it's not about last year. It's about being able to focus on today, the moment."
Admittedly, the moment just ahead looks scary. The Bruins are one point out of tying for the Eastern Conference lead and are 13-5-0 on the road.
"It's only about Boston now, and they've been killing teams; not just winning, but destroying teams," Boucher said. "We are aware that this is the powerhouse team in the League; the team that destroys everybody. It's a difficult mountain that we face."
If the Lightning are to have any chance Tuesday night, they'll need a big game from NHL goals leader Steven Stamkos. Stamkos collected a point on an assist Sunday against the Pittsburgh Penguins, but was held without a shot on goal for only the second time this season.
"Stamkos didn't have his best game against Pittsburgh," Boucher said. "Why? Because we were pushing in the previous game and I had on the ice for 20:57 and he had no more juice."
Stamkos has had more than 20 minutes of ice time for nine consecutive games and skated for just under 27 minutes Jan. 10 against Vancouver.
"Do I want to blame him for not playing his best game?" Boucher said. "No, because he's fighting so hard. He's giving everything he's got; the battle level, the fight level, the leadership."
"You're not going to feel your best every game of the year," Stamkos said. "If you think you are, you're leading yourself down the wrong path. I have been playing a lot, but there is no way I'll ever tell the coach I'm playing too much. I'll play as much as I can and try to contribute every shift."
This is the first time that Boston has returned to Tampa since the seventh game of the Eastern Conference Finals last season when the Bruins edged the Lightning 1-0 to advance to the Stanley Cup Final.
"We've been through a lot since then," Bruins coach Claude Julien said. "This team surprised a lot of people last year."
Meanwhile, in the middle of a difficult year, Boucher is taking the opportunity to assess his team in new ways.
"It's one of those years," Boucher said. "But then you get to see who is what. Which guy fights, which guy folds and which guy flies away.
"Instead of hiding, instead of feeling sorry for ourselves, no, it's what can we manage. It's not about crying over circumstances. So we take the elephant and eat it one bite at a time."
And that's a pretty daunting elephant they're facing Tuesday night.