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These are tough times for the Lightning, from Yzerman right on down

This is not where the Bolts expected to be 29 games into the season.

Buoyed by this summer’s extension of captain Steve Stamkos — and the long-term contract for cornerstone d-man Victor Hedman — the Lightning were picked by many as a Stanley Cup favorite.

But after Saturday’s 4-3 loss to the Penguins, a game in which they led 3-1, the Bolts found themselves with a mediocre 14-13-2 record, sitting fourth in the Atlantic Division.

“This is probably one of our worst [stretches] if not our worst in the last couple of years,” head coach Jon Cooper told the Times of a seven-game stint in which the Bolts went 1-5-1. “You go through the resume the last three or four of years of the all the ups and downs this team had.

“This is just a different one.”

A quick rundown of the issues plaguing Tampa Bay:

• Stamkos suffered a major knee injury in November and, following surgery, will be out four-to-six months. A huge blow, to say the least. Health problems have also plagued forward Ryan Callahan, who’s still recovering from offseason hip surgery.

• After a terrific ’15-16 campaign that culminated with a Vezina nomination, Ben Bishop has struggled. He’s said he’s trying not to let his contract situation become a distraction — he’s a UFA on July 1 — but one has to think that, after an offseason filled with trade speculation, Bishop might be sidetracked by his uncertain future. He could also be somewhat rattled by the impressive play of Andrei Vasilevskiy, long considered to be the club’s goalie of the future.

• GM Steve Yzerman might like to make a move, but is hamstrung by the club’s financial picture (the Bolts are pressed right up against the salary cap ceiling). That could part of his growing frustration, illustrated here in a piece from longtime Bolts beat writer Erik Erlendsson:

In speaking to a few people around the building, Lightning general manager Steve Yzerman was visibly upset during Thursday’s loss to Vancouver and left his spot in the press box by the end of the second period and headed straight for the locker room area, presumably for the coach’s office (he rarely spends any amount of time in the players’ areas).

• Speaking of the coach, Cooper had some telling remarks about his group following that aforementioned Vancouver loss. In particular, the club’s inability to rally after a setback.

“I thought we came out, we were outstanding and they come down, one shot, it’s in the net (and) it seemed that was it,” Cooper said, per Lightning Insider. “The little bit of adversity hits, which I didn’t think was any at all. There’s 55 minutes left and I thought we were playing hard. Guys were doing some good things and then we just kind of stopped.”

• In his latest 30 Thoughts column, Sportsnet’s Elliotte Friedman had this:

Always wonder about teams with good goal differentials that are outside a playoff position. Tampa Bay is there now, plus-5 and one point out in the East.

“They get pushed around a lot,” one opposing coach said.

• The angst isn’t solely reserved for coaching and management. Slater Koekkoek, the 10th overall pick in 2012 who looked as though he’d finally secured a spot on the club’s defense, was sent to the minors recently… and wasn’t happy about it.

“Koekkoek was upset at his latest demotion to AHL Syracuse Friday, and it’s hard to blame him,” wrote the Times’ Joe Smith. “You can argue the former first-round pick deserves more of a chance to stick in the NHL.”

Needless to say, it’s a dicey situation in Tampa Bay right now.

It’ll be curious to see how the club responds this week, in a three-game Western Canada road swing through Calgary (on Wednesday), Vancouver (on Friday) and Edmonton (on Saturday).

Video: AHL goalie Jonas Gustavsson scores his first career goal

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He didn’t shoot, but Jonas Gustavsson still scored.

The former NHL netminder, now with the Bakersfield Condors in the AHL, scored his first career goal Friday, as part of his team’s victory over the San Diego Gulls.

From the AHL:

With San Diego goaltender Dustin Tokarski on the bench for an extra attacker and the Gulls working on a power play, Gustavsson made a save before an errant San Diego pass slid down the length of the ice and into the vacated net at 16:56 of the third period.

Gustavsson is the fifth AHL goaltender to be credited with a goal without actually shooting the puck into the opposition net. In addition to his goal, Gustavsson stopped 30 of 31 shots in the Condors victory.

Bolts and Islanders both win, which is bad news for Bruins

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The New York Islanders and Tampa Bay Lightning each had to work overtime to decide their separate games, but when they ended, both clubs were victorious.

And that makes things even more interesting in the Eastern Conference wild card race.

With their shootout win in Pittsburgh, the Islanders tie the Bruins in points but take over the final playoff spot for now with fewer games played. The Lightning, despite an abundance of injuries all season, are just a point back of Boston and New York.

Nikita Kucherov scored the winner for Tampa Bay against the Red Wings. He’s up to 38 goals, which is second most in the league behind Sidney Crosby, currently at 42 goals.

Sellers leading up to the trade deadline, and without Steven Stamkos since the middle of November, the Lightning are in the thick of this race, even if others may have counted them out.

“Once again, people counted us out,” defenseman Victor Hedman told the Tampa Bay Times. “But we showed a lot of character. And we’re right back in it.”

The Bolts don’t play again until Monday, when they host the Chicago Blackhawks — only one of the hottest teams in the league.

Meanwhile, Saturday’s busy slate of games includes a showdown between the Bruins and Islanders. For Boston, it’s a chance for redemption after a particularly costly third period against Tampa Bay on Thursday.

What is wrong with the Sharks?

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Not that long ago, the San Jose Sharks appeared well on their way to winning the Pacific Division title.

On March 14, they had a seven-point lead on both Anaheim and Calgary. Gone is that advantage. Not only have the Ducks surged back into the fight for the division, but the Sharks have lost five in a row and are having a terrible time of late creating any offense.

The Ducks defeated the Jets on Friday, moving into a tie with the Sharks at 91 points.

San Jose’s struggles hit a new low Friday with a 6-1 loss to the Dallas Stars, a team with its own flaws and nowhere close to a playoff position.

At one point midway through the second period, the Sharks trailed the Stars by four goals and had only six lousy shots on goal. During this skid, San Jose has scored only five goals.

Earlier this week, members of the Sharks said they weren’t terribly worried about this losing streak. The losses, they had said, were in close games, which is true: San Jose lost three consecutive one-goal games.

“When I look at the losing streak, we dominated some of those games for long periods and found ways to lose. You never like to lose, but I’m not that concerned,” Sharks coach Pete DeBoer told CSN Bay Area. “We’ve got to obviously end it. We’ve got to get healthy. I don’t see a bunch of symptoms of a team that can’t get this fixed pretty quickly.”

This, however, was a blowout. Adam Cracknell recorded the hat trick, pushing his single-season career-high in goals to 10.

The performance at one point forced DeBoer to take a timeout, in which he expressed his displeasure.

Making matters worse for the Sharks: Defenseman Marc-Edouard Vlasic left the game early in the third period and was put under further evaluation. He didn’t return.

The Sharks visit the Nashville Predators on Saturday.

Halak and the Islanders defeat Penguins, move into wild card spot

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Quite a hockey game between the New York Islanders and Pittsburgh Penguins on Friday.

It offered plenty to enjoy — Phil Kessel‘s dominant but unfruitful shift in overtime, a combined 86 shots on goal between both teams, a showcase of skill from the likes of John Tavares and Sidney Crosby, and two strong goaltending performances from Jaroslav Halak and Marc-Andre Fleury.

Josh Ho-Sang, who wears No. 66, which is just fine in the eyes of Mario Lemieux, set up Brock Nelson‘s goal in the second period.

The Islanders and their fans probably aren’t hung up on style points at this juncture of the season. They just care about wins and points in the standings, and those are exactly what New York accomplished with a 4-3 shootout win in Pittsburgh.

Anthony Beauvillier and Tavares scored for the Islanders in the shootout. Halak made 37 stops, including a game-saver in overtime off Matt Cullen. Halak trapped the puck, which was right on the goal line, between his legs on a chance from in front. The play was reviewed but no goal.

The win gives the Islanders 82 points, which is the same total as the struggling Boston Bruins.

However, the Islanders, with one game in hand on the Bruins, take over the final wild card spot in the East for now.