PITTSBURGH — The Tampa Bay Lightning are feeling the pressure of the playoff chase.
Going into back-to-back road games Friday at Pittsburgh and Saturday at Buffalo, the Lightning (29-25-8) are outside the postseason picture despite having won four of their past five games.
The team was widely considered to be a Stanley Cup contender entering this season, but injuries and a couple tough stretches have it on the outside looking in. It got a jolt when goaltender Ben Bishop and centers Brian Boyle and Valtteri Filppula were dealt in advance of Wednesday’s NHL trade deadline — “It’s hard to lose great teammates and friends,” Tampa Bay’s Ondrej Palat said — and hopes that serves as a sort of dose of smelling salts.
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“This whole season’s kind of been tough,” Tyler Johnson said after the Lightning overcame a sluggish start Wednesday for a 4-3 overtime victory at Carolina. “We’re all ready to make the playoffs. That’s what we need to do — to make a push. The guys in the locker room (Wednesday night) are the guys that are going to be here. That’s what we have to do.”
Getting to the far side of the trade deadline, with roster questions settled, could help remove any distractions.
Coach Jon Cooper indicated that the stress of trade deadline day could have led to Tampa’s Bay rocky start at Carolina. Now the focus shifts to qualifying for the playoffs.
“We’re trying to make it,” Cooper said. “We feel we’ve got the group to do that. We’ve got to just keep this going.”
Star center Steven Stamkos skated in a limited capacity with the Lightning at Wednesday’s morning skate. He could return before the end of the month from Nov. 17 knee surgery, but it won’t be this weekend against the Penguins and Sabres.
“We know it’s two tough teams,” defenseman Victor Hedman said. “We’ve got to bring our A-game. We’ve got to be better than (Wednesday).”
Pittsburgh (38-16-8), the defending Stanley Cup champion, is coming home from a frustrating 0-2 road trip to Dallas and Chicago.
“It’s unfortunate we play two good periods in Dallas and come (to Chicago) and do some good things and, unfortunately, have nothing to show for it,” team captain and NHL goal leader Sidney Crosby said. “If anything, hopefully, we can learn from this and get better, but we’ve done some good things that are positive signs. We’ve got to make sure we continue that.”
The Penguins also made a couple deadline moves. Forward Eric Fehr was sent to Toronto and veteran defensemen Ron Hainsey was acquired, and right before the deadline, Mark Streit was added to a defensive corps that has been hit hard by injuries. Streit is expected to make his Pittsburgh debut against the Lightning.
“I love the way they play,” Streit told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. “It’s an up-tempo game, a fast game. … I guess me, as a puck-mover, I’m, hopefully, going to fit in well.”
Streit won’t get in a full practice with his new club before getting into the game — the Penguins had an off-ice workout Thursday — but he just faced them Saturday as a member of the Philadelphia Flyers during an outdoor Stadium Series game. He was traded Wednesday to Tampa, but it’s not likely there will be any emotions in facing the Lightning, who almost immediately flipped him to Pittsburgh.
“Playing with guys like (Crosby) and (Evgeni Malkin) and a lot of other great players, that’s going to be sick,” Streit told the Pittsburgh Tribune Review. “I’m really excited. It’s going to be a quick turnaround, but I just want to meet the guys and get going.”