In trying to rebound from losing four of their last five games, the Tampa Bay Lightning can look to their previous opponent and their current one for perspective.
Minnesota started the season slowly -- perhaps fueled by, like the Lightning, a lack of home games at the beginning of the schedule - but has caught fire of late having won five-straight games, including a 5-4 win over the Bolts at AMALIE Arena Thursday. The Wild have picked up points in 11-consecutive contests.
Likewise, the San Jose Sharks enter AMALIE Arena tonight with 11 wins in their last 15 contests, this coming after starting the season on a four-game losing skid and going winless over five-consecutive games just prior to their current winning run. At one point, the Sharks were maybe the League's biggest disappointment.
Now, they're tied for fourth in the Pacific Division standings and climbing, and no one's asking anymore what's wrong with the Sharks.
Perhaps there's a lesson in there for the Lightning and their fans: No matter how dire things might seem - and the Bolts aren't in panic mode by any stretch -- they can always get better. It only takes one hot stretch to erase past struggles.
Video: Preview | Lightning vs. Sharks
"It's the one thing about playing 82 games," Lightning head coach Jon Cooper said. "If you really look at the big picture, going into a season if you sit here and say you're going to lose 25 games this year, you're like, 'Holy cow, what?' You lose 25 games, you're probably winning your division or darn close to it. That's what's hard for, you go into every game trying to win it, but nobody's going 82-0. And it's just how are you playing? It's the challenges. Are you being consistent? And for the most part, we've been doing that, we're just not getting the points, we've left points on the table. What we need to do now and that's our urgency is we need to start getting some of these points. We've got this stretch at home now, we've just got to take advantage of it."
If the Lightning are going to make a run, now would seem to be a good time to do it. Tampa Bay plays nine of its next 11 games at AMALIE Arena, including tonight's contest against the Western Conference's San Jose Sharks (7 p.m. puck drop), the final game in three straight against the West for the Bolts.
Tampa Bay is just 3-5-1 against Western Conference foes this season.
"We can't deviate too much about our game just because San Jose's coming in and the Islanders coming in next," Cooper said. "We've liked a lot of the way we've played. There's been tiny spurts in games that have let games get away from us. That's on us as a group. It's not on the other team. We've got to fix that. It's different when you're playing a Western Conference team, you're only seeing them twice a year, but we just look at it as these are points we've got to get, especially in this little stretch where we're home."
Despite the plethora of home games, the schedule doesn't get easier for the Lightning, who play the Islanders, Boston and Washington, the top three teams in the Eastern Conference, next week as well as traveling to Sunrise to take on the resurgent Florida Panthers.
Video: Pregame | Jon Cooper
"We're battling hard, playing some good teams in big tests for us," Lightning center Anthony Cirelli said. "I think we've just got to stick to our structure, stick to our game plan and see it through for a full 60."
The Lightning also don't want to deviate too much from their typical mode of attack just because they're matching up against a team from the West, which tends to play a more physical, grind-you-down style.
"Sometimes you can sit here and say the Western Conference is more physical. The East is maybe faster. At the end of the day, they're all hockey players, all NHL players," Lightning forward Mathieu Joseph said. "I don't think we want to change our mentality of how we want to play. We want to play fast and doesn't matter if we're playing against a Western Conference or East. Sometimes maybe the West Conference teams will hit maybe a little bit more and maybe more of a physical game than usual, but in general I think we stick to our plan and try to play the way we want to play."