Tampa Bay Lightning defenseman Anton Stralman sat at his locker room stall following another Bolts' loss, 5-2 to Ottawa on Thursday, and stared straight ahead at the floor, his body perfectly still except for the wadded-up ball of used tape he was squeezing in his left hand.
Stralman's expression was blank. He remained motionless for a couple minutes, never breaking his gaze off the ground. Then he sighed solemnly before beginning the process of storing the remainder of his equipment in his stall.
Stralman's reaction to a third-straight loss sums up the collective feelings of Bolts Nation right now.
A team predicted by some before the season to win a Stanley Cup is now in serious trouble of not even making the playoffs. The Lightning entered a four-game home stand on Tuesday needing to collect wins and in a hurry. After dropping the first two games of the home stand, to Atlantic Division opponents no less, the frustration has reached its peak.
Time is quickly running out on the Bolts' season.
Where did it all go wrong? We'll take a look in 3 Things from the loss to Ottawa.
Video: Cooper on tough stretch for Bolts
1. GROUNDHOG DAY
If Lightning fans feel like they're watching the same game over and over, it's because, well, they are.
Thursday's game against Ottawa played out almost exactly like Tuesday's loss to Boston. After a scoreless first period, the Lightning got on the board first in the middle frame, Tyler Johnson following up his saved initial attempt with a second whack from in close that beat Senators goaltender Mike Condon.
But just like two nights earlier, the Bolts' play dipped and their opponent's raised after netting the opening goal.
And it wasn't long - seven minutes, 24 seconds to be exact - before a 1-0 Tampa Bay lead turned into a 2-1 deficit.
Just like Tuesday
In his postgame press conference, Lightning head coach Jon Cooper asked if he felt like he was reliving the same game, like Groundhog Day.
"Is it Punxsutawney Phil? What did he say?" Cooper asked.
"Six more weeks of winter," a media member chimed back, referring to the groundhog who saw its shadow earlier in the day.
"Oh boy, let's hope not," Cooper replied.
After falling behind 3-1, the Lightning tried to rally, Brayden Point tipping Brian Boyle's shot past Condon to cut the deficit to 3-2. Less than two minutes later, however, Mark Stone answered for the Senators, and any momentum the Lightning might have had quickly vanished.
"We always say that if you score a goal, the next shift is the biggest shift," Johnson said. "It changes the whole momentum. You can't be expecting that just because you did something good that the other team is just going to keep letting you do it. You have got to keep on going. Every single shift is a brand new shift."
Every game is a brand-new game, too.
But for Lightning fans lately, it hasn't felt that way.
Video: Boyle on team morale after loss
2. NO SHOT
For the second-straight game, the Lightning registered just 21 shots on goal, their second-lowest shot output of the season.
Nearly 10 minutes expired before the Bolts got their first shot on goal. By the end of the first period, they had just five on the board.
That's not going to get it done, especially for a team fighting for its playoff life.
"Well, I think we've played two teams [Boston and Ottawa] that are committed to defending and blocking shots," Boyle said. "I think for us, we're trying to commit to defending and blocking shots, and if it's a bit of a chess match early on, then that's okay. We've come out of first periods in both games in pretty decent shape. We need to be patient, and we want to generate more shots. That's obvious. We had a power play in the first where we could have generated some more (shots), and we didn't. But, you're playing against teams that are trying to be stingy and not give up goals especially at this point in time in the season, and that's what wins you games. The top teams that defend and keep the puck out of the net are the teams that advance, climb the standings. They advance in the playoffs and win Stanley Cups."
Video: OTT@TBL: Point deflects one five-hole to trim deficit
3. NOT THROWING IN THE TOWEL
At 22-24-6 after 52 games, the Lightning are certainly nowhere near the position they hoped or expected to be in at this point in the season.
But, they're not ready to give up. There's still plenty of fight left in the team, as Boyle alluded to during his post-game interview session.
"I believe there's 30 games left, so we can't have that attitude that were being kicked while were down because I don't think any other team is feeling sorry for us right now, that is going to give us a charity win along the way here," Boyle said. "Every game is going to be like this, and whether we know it or not, it's been like this in the past. The intensity ramps up in the second half and then again in the playoffs. We've been through that. We've had team confidence. We've had guys that had big years, and we've advanced. But we need to know that if you're going to quit, it's going to get really ugly and we got enough time to do something here. And regardless of what the outside thinks, there's 30 games [left] to be played, and that's a lot of points on the table."
The Bolts may be down, but they're not out.
There's nothing more for the team to do but get back to work correcting their mistakes and figuring out how to regain the form that brought them to the brink of a Stanley Cup two years ago and within a game of the Stanley Cup Final last season.
"The results take a toll on you night after night," Boyle said. "But just because it gets harder and harder each loss doesn't mean it's okay to just say, 'We gave it the old college try.' The worst part about this whole thing is we've been there, we've done it. And we can do it again, it's just up to us. We need to understand that. There's not going to be a flip the switch or an aha moment, it's going to be work, it's going to be a lot of sweat. We've been trying to do it. A couple mistakes have cost us in each game, and that's what's going to happen. We need to try to be perfect."