TAMPA, Fla. – Martin St. Louis had a remarkable year, leading the NHL in scoring at age 37. Still, the Tampa Bay Lightning forward would give up it all up to play in the Stanley Cup playoffs.
Tampa Bay failed to make the post-season for the second straight season despite having the league’s top two scorers in St. Louis and Steven Stamkos.
“The summer’s long when you don’t make the playoffs,” Lightning coach Jon Cooper said. “We’re about to experience that and it’s not a great feeling.”
St. Louis finished with 60 points, becoming the oldest Art Ross Trophy winner. He also captured the scoring title in 2004, when Tampa Bay won its only Stanley Cup championship. Stamkos wound up second in the points race with 57.
“I’d trade a lot of that to be in the playoffs and have a chance at the Stanley Cup,” St. Louis said. “But then when all that kind of goes away, the hope of getting in, you try to finish strong and play the right way.”
With post-season hopes fading quickly after a 6-1 start, the Lightning (18-26-4) fired coach Guy Boucher in late March and brought in Cooper, the coach of the organization’s top minor league team at Syracuse of the American Hockey League.
“It’s one of those situations where I’m going to sit back and reflect on the day to day basis what went on,” Cooper said. “It’s just been a whirlwind. Something new pops up every day. So, I’m just glad that I’ve been able to experience it now than in September. It’s not going to be new to me anymore.”
Tampa Bay finished up next to last in the Eastern Conference and fourth in a weak Southeast Division, which only sent one team—division-winning Washington—into the post-season.
Too many bad turnovers, a shaky defence and inconsistent goaltending doomed the Lightning, which scored 148 goals, while allowing 150. The team struggled in close games, going went 8-23-4 in contests decided by two or less goals.
“We’ve got to learn to put games away,” Lightning captain Vincent Lecavalier said.
Tampa Bay general manager Steve Yzerman has decided to move forward with two promising, but inexperienced goalies, Ben Bishop, acquired in an Apr. 3 trade with Ottawa, and Anders Lindback, obtained from Nashville last off-season. The duo have played in a combined 107 NHL games.
“Winning is contagious,” Cooper said. “When you start doing it, you want more of it. It’s s process. It doesn’t happen overnight.”
The NHL’s new realignment plan, set to begin next season, will provide an additional playoff hurdle for the Lightning, who are moving into a new eight team division that includes 2013 playoff teams Boston, Detroit, Montreal, Ottawa and Toronto.
“We had two of the top scorers in the league, and we’re not making the playoffs,” Cooper said. “That’s where, somewhere, at some point we’ve got turn that into winning hockey games. There’s no question that with the players we have we can create that.”