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Lightning thinks it can play better against Pittsburgh in playoffs

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The Tampa Bay Lightning are 9-3 in the playoffs.

They have discovered a beast in Nikita Kucherov. They have found a star of tomorrow in Jonathan Drouin. They have discovered defensive stability in Victor Hedman.

And for the next trick of the Lightning?

They want to be better.

The Lightning were disappointed with its performance in a 3-2 overtime loss Monday night to the Pittsburgh Penguins. Despite not losing until the extra frame, the Bolts were outshot 41-21 and spent most of the third period searching.

“We’ve got to play better to win this series; there’s no doubt,” coach Jon Cooper said. “I don’t think — we haven’t put our best foot forward. I think — you know, now that we’ve played them two times, we know a little bit more what to expect, but I know we’ve got more in the tank than what we’ve showed.”

Cooper said the team’s problems included puck possession.

“It’s a concern, there’s no question,” Cooper said. “I think we’ve put ourselves in positions to have the puck more, but we’re not being very smart about how we’re playing. We’re not playing as a group of five on the ice. We’re kind of — we’re in all like different segments, playing in different zones, changing when we shouldn’t, and when you’re not in unison, you’re not going to have the puck a whole lot of time. So definitely something we have to improve on.

“By no means am I sitting here saying, oh, gosh, we’re a way better team. Not at all. They have a lot to do with it as well. You don’t get to the conference final by fluke, I don’t believe. They’ve got a really good team, and there’s a reason they, I guess, have the best record since February, whatever it is, and they’re playing well.”

The Bolts have their next two games in Tampa, where they expect to play better.

“I like the fact that we don’t have a couple of days to sit here and digest what happened,” Cooper said. “It’s a loss. We lost the game. I don’t think anybody’s going to sit here and say, well, Tampa won Game 1. We were just going to sweep our way through the series. That wasn’t going to happen.

“We expect this is going to be a long, tough series. I don’t think we’re really happy with the way we played, although that game went to overtime. We could have handled ourselves in some situations a little bit better. But to get back on right away is probably a bonus for us.”

The teams play Wednesday at 8 p.m. at Amalie Arena.

Gary Shelton is one of the most recognized and honored sportswriters in the history of the state. He has won the APSE's national columnist of the year twice and finished in the top 10 eight times. He was named the Florida Sportswriter of the Year six times. Gary joined SaintPetersBlog in the spring, helping to bring a sports presence to the website. Over his time in sports writing, Gary has covered 29 Super Bowls, 10 Olympics, Final Fours, Masters, Wimbledons and college national championships. He was there when the Bucs won a Super Bowl, when the Lightning won a Stanley Cup and when the Rays went to a World Series. He has seen Florida, FSU and Miami all win national championships, and he covered Bear Bryant, Bobby Bowden and Don Shula along the way. He and his wife Janet have four children: Eric, Kevin, K.C. and Tori. To contact, visit garysheltonsports@gmail.com.

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