The Tampa Bay Lightning dropped their fourth straight game Saturday afternoon 5-3 in Buffalo. While four straight losses by this team will always get your attention, this game became more about a coaching decision made in the third period to keep the Lightning’s top three forwards stapled to the bench.
Captain Steven Stamkos, Brayden Point and Nikita Kucherov each did not take a single shift in the third period. The trio were a combined minus-six in the first two periods as the team trailed 4-1.
The early afternoon contest did not have the Lightning at their best to match a desperate Buffalo team and head coach Jon Cooper determined that the trio was not giving them the best chance to win.
The guys who did play the final period played with a ton of heart. Tampa Bay went down 5-1 on an early third period power play goal and then they responded by getting two goals back and not allowing another goal the rest of the way. They made a pretty valiant effort in a comeback attempt as they outshot Buffalo, 15-4 in the final frame.
There are no moral victories in the NHL, especially at this point of the season. Having the group respond the way they did in the third clearly showed that a message was received by the guys who were still playing.
This game could go on to be a game where things turn for Tampa Bay who have been skidding a bit of late. Sitting your three biggest star forwards sends a huge message to the rest of the group that they could be next and that everybody is held to the same standard.
During the 2019-20 season, Kucherov was benched almost an entire third period in a game early in the season that eventually went to OT. That game was a huge turning point for the team and the mindset they had. The Lightning would go on to win the Stanley Cup that season and that was certainly a moment you could look to as to where things turned.
Every team goes through rough patches over the course of an 82 game season, even the great ones. We will get another chance to see how this team responds to this message tomorrow as the Lightning head to Raleigh to take on the Metropolitan Division leading Hurricanes.