Lightning learned lesson from slow start: Stamkos

Friday, 01.29.2016 / 3:38 PM
Dan Rosen  - Senior Writer

NASHVILLE -- Steven Stamkos and his future is still the biggest storyline in Tampa, perhaps even in the entire NHL, but amidst the noise and rumors, the Tampa Bay Lightning have found some traction in what was until recently looking like a disappointing season.

The Lightning went into the NHL All-Star break having won nine of 11 games in January, including seven in a row at one point. They're second in the Atlantic Division with 58 points after entering the month in sixth place, five points shy of second and three points out of the second wild card from the Eastern Conference into the Stanley Cup Playoffs.

Stamkos said the Lightning's turnaround began with what he called a "look in the mirror" performance in a 3-1 loss at the Calgary Flames on Jan. 5.

"We didn't play very well, myself included, and we needed more," Stamkos said. "It's been nice to see. It's been nice to go on this run. But at the same time, we're not in the clear. We're right in the thick of things. We need to consistently have the effort that we've had lately and we'll be OK."

The better effort, Stamkos said, comes from a combination of good health and a greater understanding of what it takes to win when teams are gunning for you.

The Lightning played last season, even in the playoffs, without the burden of high expectations. Stamkos said they felt they were a good team, but nobody was banking on them doing much.

They got to the Stanley Cup Final, which changed everything about this season.

"Expectations changed, the bar has been raised, and people are coming into games using our team as a measuring stick to see where they are, whereas last year we were doing that with other teams," Stamkos said. "It's definitely different. That's why you have so much respect for teams like Chicago, L.A., Boston. They get the best of every team. You learn that and now we're embracing that a little bit."

He said he can tell because the attitude around the Lightning has changed. They are acting like they did last year, and playing like it too.

"What made us successful last year was our ability to compete and work hard on top of the skillset that we have," Stamkos said. "I think we got away from that at the beginning of the year, maybe expecting to come into games and win just because of the great team that we know we are. You can come into games and win some of them based on your skill, but you can't do that consistently."

It helps, of course, that the Lightning are finally healthy, especially with forwards Tyler Johnson and Ondrej Palat back in the lineup. Johnson missed 13 of 17 games from Nov. 16-Dec. 26. Palat missed 20 of 22 games from Nov. 10-Dec. 30.

"People forget we started the year 3-0 and things were going great, and then we kind of fell into a little funk there where I think we were maybe a little guilty of just coming into the rink and expecting to win games because of the talent we have on our team and of course what happened last year, getting to the Final," Stamkos said. "Then the injuries mounted and it didn't equal a lot of wins for our group. But we knew deep down that when guys got back from injury we were too good of a team to not be in the playoff hunt. We've turned it around since then. We learned our lesson."

Follow Dan Rosen on Twitter at: @drosennhl

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