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Lightning players shifting focus to game vs. Jets

by Patrick Williams

WINNIPEG -- Members of the Tampa Bay Lightning filtered out of the team's pre-game meal Sunday at their downtown hotel and tried to explain the firing of coach Guy Boucher.

Boucher's dismissal came hours before the Lightning meet the Winnipeg Jets at MTS Centre. Tampa Bay enters the game 14th in the Eastern Conference, five points out of a playoff spot.

"I think all the rest of us in here have to look at ourselves in the mirror," Martin St. Louis said, "and say, 'You know what? I probably can do more, could have done more and am able to do more.'"

Boucher's firing means that 23-year-old Steven Stamkos will play for his fourth coach in five seasons when vice president and general manager Steve Yzerman names Boucher's replacement.

"The change has been made," Stamkos said. "You have to respect your general manager's decision. As a player you have to respond to whatever happens in the upcoming days. It starts [Sunday]. We have a game [Sunday]. We have to find a way here to get back into the win column."

Stamkos expressed regret over Boucher's firing.

"Obviously you never want to see that happen," he said. "You don't want to see anyone to lose their job, especially someone who has been part of this organization for a long time and who has worked extremely hard. He's probably the hardest-working coach I've ever had with regard to what he puts into preparation and trying to help the guys get ready for games [but] this game and this League is all about wins."

Stamkos also explained that the club's run to the 2011 Eastern Conference Finals during Boucher's first season with the Lightning raised expectations considerably. The team missed the playoffs the next season and are on the verge of missing the postseason again in 2012-13.

"Expectations were set after that [playoff run]," Stamkos said. "We probably wouldn't have expected to go that far before [that] season, so when you go on a run like that, the next season the bar has been set. Obviously our team -- not just our coaching staff, it's our whole team -- probably didn’t live up to those [expectations].

"Another year of struggling and something has to be done. That's just the nature of the game. It's the business side of it. As players, it's tough, but you just wish Guy the best of luck. Like I said, I have a lot of respect for him and how hard he works, but it's the nature of the game, and we have to try to find a way to push through it."

Stamkos also refuted suggestions that Lightning players had tuned out Boucher's message.

"I don't think it was anything like that, where you hear about guys not responding to the coach and stuff," he said. "I don't think that was the case. I think that when you have someone that works that hard to prepare you for games, you respect that, and Guy respected us not only as players, but as people. He had great relationships with guys and he tried to get to know everyone on a personal level."

While Yzerman said the move to replace Boucher was made with the organization's long-term outlook in mind, St. Louis said he is keeping his focus on the game Sunday against the Jets and his club's bid to sneak back into playoff contention.

"We want to battle and give ourselves a chance," St. Louis said. "We've got to lay it on the line and go play. Everybody wakes up, finds out what happened, and we've got to play a game [Sunday]. We're just going to control what we can, come up with a game plan and go play. Play hard."

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