March 31, 2014

While Steven Stamkos couldn't help but lash out in frustration for the second time in two weeks, Ben Bishop couldn't help but throw in his two cents.

Both insist the Tampa Bay Lightning will regroup over the final week.

After their bid for an Atlantic Division title took a hit, the Lightning hope to bounce back in their final home game Saturday night against a New Jersey Devils team that's on the brink of elimination.

Tampa Bay hoped a six-game stay at Amalie Arena would serve as a springboard to its first division crown since claiming the Southeast title and hoisting the Stanley Cup in 2003-04.

The club totaled 13 goals in winning the first two games to move into a first-place tie with Florida, but has scored a combined five while dropping two of the last three. The Lightning fell 5-2 to the Panthers on Saturday and 3-0 to Montreal on Thursday.

Now Tampa Bay (44-28-5) is two points back of Florida, which also has five to play. A victory over the Devils would secure the tiebreaker with more victories in regulation or overtime.

''There's no excuses here,'' Stamkos said. ''Look yourself in the mirror time. If you're not giving the effort, then you're letting your teammates down. That's not acceptable at this time.

''I still have 100 percent belief that this group is special and can get it done,'' he added. ''We have the guys. I believe in them and we've got to start believing in ourselves.''

It's not the first time the captain has had harsh words for the defending Eastern Conference champs. He called them "fragile" after the team dropped five of six in March and fell to third in the Atlantic.

The Lightning responded that time by winning three in a row, and now they hope to rally in similar fashion after Bishop also called out his team.

''There's a lot of people talking the talk but not that many guys walking the walk," the veteran goaltender said. "We've got five games left. We'll figure it out."

Bishop, expected to start Saturday, has gone 11-3-1 with a 1.67 goals-against average in his last 15 starts. He has four shutouts in that span and has two in his last three matchups with the Devils, including a 4-0 win Feb. 26 in the clubs' only meeting this season. Bishop's 1.26 career GAA versus New Jersey is his best against any opponent.

Stamkos has scored in each of the last three against the Devils but had his six-game point streak snapped Thursday. Ondrej Palat had a five-game point streak end but has five points in his last two meetings with New Jersey.

Ryan Callahan has 16 points in his last 14 games against the Devils. He returned Thursday from a five-game absence due to a lower-body injury, but his point drought reached 10 games.

The Devils (37-33-8) have totaled just six goals while losing three of their last four games to fall seven points out of a postseason spot with four remaining. All three defeats were by one goal, including 3-2 to Florida on Thursday as Mike Sislo scored his third of the season and Blake Pietila had his first.

A loss Saturday would leave New Jersey out of the playoffs for the fourth straight year.

Cory Schneider will return to net after missing 12 games with a knee injury. He has a 3.42 GAA in four starts versus the Lightning after allowing all four goals in February.

Tampa Bay will also face New Jersey on Thursday during a season-ending four-game trip.

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