The first period of the Lightning's 3-2 loss to the Hurricanes on Sunday was so embarrassing, coach Jon Cooper delivered a strong message between periods in the locker room.

How players perform this week as the team wraps up the season will not be forgotten as he formulates his plan for next season.

"Eventually, it's going to come down to who wants to be part of this and who doesn't," Cooper said Tuesday. "We know there's an end to the season coming up and that can creep into your mind. But we just have to erase that and understand we're playing for next year as well."

End-of-season malaise is something with which every nonplayoff team must deal.

But with a new coach trying to understand the pulse of the team and the character of players with whom he is not familiar, there are even more reasons for Tampa Bay players to focus through season-ending games tonight at home against the Maple Leafs, Thursday at the Bruins and Saturday at home against the Panthers.

"Even for myself," Cooper said. "I don't want to be part of something that ends this early, so it's excellent motivation for myself to make sure we as a staff and as a team are much better. And it starts now."

It will be interesting to see how that dynamic plays out within a team already riding a six-game losing streak.

Forward Alex Killorn said for him and other young players, "It's always easy to get up and get going because we've just started and we want to make an impression on the team."

For veterans, though, handling the end of a nonplayoff season is more nuanced.

"It is hard," right wing Marty St. Louis said. "Your mind will tell you why work hard? But as a professional athlete, you have to respect the game and respect your teammates. Some guys are playing for jobs, playing for contracts. You have to respect that and work hard to the end."