The Bolts are in ‘uncharted territory,’ as losses pile up and playoff hopes fade

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It’s crunch time for the Tampa Bay Lightning. It has been for a while.

And yet, for a team considered a possible Stanley Cup contender this season after lengthy playoff runs in consecutive years, the Lightning remain in danger of missing the 2017 playoffs.

Their hopes of a post-season berth took another hit Thursday.

They got on the board first, thanks to a goal from Tyler Johnson. But the lead didn’t last long and the Ottawa Senators came storming back for a 5-2 victory in Tampa Bay. The Bolts are now 15th out of 16 teams in the Eastern Conference, and an already difficult road to qualify for the playoffs gets even worse.

“The results take a toll on you night after night,” Brian Boyle told the Tampa Bay Times.

“‘Infuriating’ is a good word to describe this stretch. We can’t take the attitude that we’re getting kicked while we’re down, because I don’t think any other team is feeling sorry for us right now and is going to give us a charity win along the way.”

The result was bad enough.

But the Lightning manufactured only 21 shots on goal and only seven in the third period. To their credit, the Senators, under coach Guy Boucher, don’t give up many shots on goal at five-0n-five, sitting seventh in the league in shots-against, per stats.hockeyanalysis.com.

The Lightning also don’t have their best scorer, Steven Stamkos, in the lineup. He’s been out since mid-November following knee surgery and general manager Steve Yzerman isn’t yet setting a firm return date for his star forward.

“This group’s never been through this before. So it’s kind of uncharted territory for them,” said coach Jon Cooper. “Lot of guys in the room are used to winning a lot and … it tests you a little bit.

“Right now, it’s tough for them because it seems every time we start taking a step forward, we take two back.”