The excitement is beginning to build on the west central coast of the Sunshine State as fans of the Tampa Bay Lightning prepare to host their first Stanley Cup Playoff game in four years.
The Lightning scored a 5-1 victory in Game 2 on Friday to even their best-of-7 series with the Pittsburgh Penguins. Penguins coach Dan Bylsma knows keeping emotions in check whether home or away is critical to success.
"Playoff series are a ride of emotions and they came back and answered in Game 2 to tie the series," Bylsma told reporters following Saturday's practice." They are now going home for two home games, home-ice advantage and we have to re-gather ourselves and go in there, and understand how important it is to play our very best game and get a win in Tampa Bay. Change of venues and those emotions are important to manage."
Despite Friday's lopsided loss on home ice, the Penguins aren't in panic mode. In fact, the club feels comfortable playing on the road -- the team led the League in road wins during the regular season with a franchise-record 24 away from Consol Energy Center. That was one road victory short of the Eastern Conference leaders -- the Philadelphia Flyers.
"They have to do the same thing and get ready for Game 3," Bylsma said. "We now know we're going to have to win a game in Tampa Bay to make home-ice matter here in the series. Game 3 and Game 4 will be pivotal games. We have that focus and understanding."
The Lightning will look to grab hold of the series before their sun-drenched fans on Monday in Game 3 at 7:30 p.m. Game 4 is slated right back at St. Pete Times Forum on Wednesday at 7 p.m.
I'll be in Tampa for Games 3 and 4 this week, so keep checking back often for game updates and a look at how Tampa is preparing for playoff hockey once again.