Lightning face tough offseason

Published: Monday, May 1, 2006 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Monday, May 1, 2006 at 12:00 a.m.
TAMPA - The Tampa Bay Lightning's reign as Stanley Cup champions ended in the first round of the playoffs, and the team is already searching for answers to what it will take to climb back among the NHL's elite.
"I think sometimes as an organization if you sneak by a round and maybe you win a couple of rounds you may think your team is OK," coach John Tortorella said. "I think us being bounced out in the first round, I think it's opened our eyes to some of the weaknesses that we do have in our club."
Plagued all season by inconsistency, the Lightning played just well enough down the stretch to squeeze into the playoffs as the eighth seed in the Eastern Conference. A loss in the regular-season finale cost them the No. 7 seed and essentially sealed their postseason destiny.
Top-seeded Ottawa has dominated the Lightning the past five years and took advantage of all of Tampa Bay's shortcomings - particularly subpar goaltending - in eliminating the Lightning in five games.
Three of the losses were by three goals or more, and by the end of Game 4 the frustration was evident.
Tortorella lashed out at starter John Grahame after lopsided losses in the third and fourth games, turning to backup Sean Burke for Game 5, which the Lightning lost 3-2 in Ottawa on Saturday night.
Another priority this summer will be re-signing leading scorer Brad Richards.
Tortorella said retooling is in order in some areas, but the coach doesn't think wholesale changes are needed.
"I'm optimistic with the core. ... It's still a very young core and we forget that sometimes. I'm really excited about that part," the coach said.
"I think they were exploited in this series, I think they were exploited during the year. It's up to us to not knee-jerk, but try to make the right decisions in getting us up to par as far as the way the game is being played right now."
Richards is confident the front office will make the proper moves.
"There's no quit in this organization. That's the way we were brought up as a young group, and that's the way it always will be here," Richards said.
"We've taken a lot of steps in this organization since I've been here. ... We can compete with any team now. There's 16 teams in the playoffs that can win and we just didn't get it done."

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