Lightning coach pushes big guns

TODD SAELHOF -- Calgary Sun

, Last Updated: 12:37 PM ET


 His team shot blanks Saturday night in Game 3.

 So head coach John Tortorella was point-blank yesterday in issuing a challenge to his Tampa Bay Lightning. In particular, his blunt appraisal was aimed at the team's best players and their oft-ineffective performances during the 2004 Stanley Cup final.

 "I don't think our offensive players played as well as they should have (Saturday night)," said Tortorella, whose Lightning head into tonight's Game 4 trailing 2-1 to the Calgary Flames in the best-of-seven series. "None of our offensive players played that well.

 "The way this team is, the way we play, our offensive people have to be our best players."

 The most obvious no-show is Martin St. Louis, the Flames cast-off who's become the NHL's playoff scoring leader with 21 points after finishing tops in regular-season scoring with 94 points.

 In Game 3, the 'Little Bolt That Could' spent most of the game picking himself off the ice with the Flames relentless in their physical play against him. And although he collected two goals and an assist in the two opening games in Tampa Bay, St. Louis has failed to bring his 'A' game to the Cup final.

 "You have to be your best this time of year," St. Louis said. "Some nights it's tougher than others but you have to find a way. You have to be tough on yourself. You can't be easily satisfied. You just have to respond."

 "He has to raise his game," said Tortorella, who has seen St. Louis pace the Bolts to the third-highest goal total (245) in the regular season and the second-best goals-per-game average (2.74) of these playoffs. "But along with Marty, there's Vinny (Lecavalier), (Brad) Richie (Richards), (Freddy) Modin and (Cory) Stillman -- they all have to raise their game.

 "It's not a criticism and it's not calling them out. As each game goes by in a finals, you're damn right they better raise their level. It's not one particular guy. It's what we do -- that's the most important thing. Each one of our offensive people has to do a better job in raising their level."

 And it has to happen tonight.

 A loss would tumble the Lightning to its fourth consecutive road loss after opening these playoffs with a perfect 5-0 record away from Tampa. More importantly, it would put the Eastern Conference champions behind 3-1 in the series -- a hole from which few finalists have been able to dig out of in league history.

 Without its prolific offence, there's no shovel -- and no chance -- for the Lightning.

 "The way they're playing, they're playing well," said Modin, praising the Flames' defensive game. "I think we are creating chances but the puck's not going in. So what we have to do is create more chances just to give ourselves a better opportunity to score."

 Tortorella agreed.

 "Our adjustment is simply to play better underneath their hashmarks. If that's where the game is going to be played, we will play it there. We simply have to do a better job offensively than they do defensively and (Saturday) night we didn't."


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