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Lightning see lengthy homestand as an advantage

Tuesday, 02.01.2011 / 11:58 AM / NHL Insider

By Dan Rosen - NHL.com Senior Writer

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Lightning see lengthy homestand as an advantage
Tampa Bay has started out an NHL record-tying 12-game homestand with two wins and will try to continue putting distance between itself and other playoff contenders.
Steven Stamkos hears everyone talking about how Tampa Bay's current 12-game homestand, an anomaly created by a quirk in the NHL schedule, can turn into a distraction of the worst kind for the Southeast Division leaders.

Surprise, surprise -- Stamkos is instead looking at the Lightning's NHL record-tying homestand, which resumes Tuesday against Philadelphia, in a much more positive light.

"If you look at it the way a lot of people are looking at it, it is a long homestand and there's always the fear of getting complacent at home, too comfortable," Stamkos told NHL.com. "But our team has been on the road so much this year that we're going to use this as a chance to really pull away from the teams behind us and gain some ground in the tight conference and division that we're in."

Tampa Bay leads Washington in the Southeast Division by four points despite playing 29 of its 51 games away from St. Pete Times Forum. Only Nashville (30) has played more road games than the Lightning so far this season, but the story will be different by the end of the month as the Lightning still have 10 games left on the homestand that started with a 7-1 win over Atlanta on Jan. 23.

Toss in their 2-0 win over Toronto prior to the All-Star break and the Lightning are 2-0 so far, but playoff contenders Philadelphia and Washington come to town this week and they also play Carolina, Detroit, Philadelphia again and Phoenix among others before finally hitting the road for a game against the Rangers at Madison Square Garden on Feb. 27.

"We've already got two big wins and then we go home and play Philly, Washington and then Philadelphia again in the next couple of games. I mean, this isn't going to be easy," Stamkos said. "By no means are we thinking just because we're home and because of our record we have at home this year (14-4-2) that it's going to be an easy homestand. We're trying to use the crowd as motivation. Being at home, we can hopefully catch some teams on the end of back-to-backs. But we're not going to come in feeling too comfortable and I don't think the coaching staff is going to let us feel that way either."

The coaching staff doesn't feel comfortable at all. In talking to NHL.com earlier this season, coach Guy Boucher mentioned how scared he is of the month of February. The fear is that the distractions players deal with at home -- family, friends, paying bills, general home life -- will turn their focus away from hockey and the playoff push.

So according to the St. Petersburg Times, Boucher has some team bonding activities in mind to keep the players together away from the rink and he isn't ruling out a trip to another part of Florida just to get away for a bit and feel as though they're on the road again.

"It's too much fun to be in Tampa," Boucher told the St. Petersburg Times. "That is not what we need for an entire month. What I like is we're playing tough teams; keeps them focused."

Boucher has the backing of GM Steve Yzerman for whatever he wants to do.

"It's too much fun to be in Tampa. That is not what we need for an entire month. What I like is we're playing tough teams; keeps them focused."
-- Lightning coach Guy Boucher

"It becomes a little bit of Groundhog Day," GM Steve Yzerman told the St. Petersburg Times. "Guy is not afraid to shake things up. And I suspect over the course of the month he'll try to do different things to make sure the guys don't get in a rut."

Still, Stamkos is not against the idea of staying home for a while. He's single, but can imagine what it must be like for the guys with a family to finally get some extended time at home.

"This is going to be welcome for them," Stamkos said. "We've been on the road so much this year. I think we're going to be fine."

And if this thing is a success, if the Lightning can use the homestand to their advantage, then the city should be alive for hockey when the spring hits.

"We've surprised a lot of people in this League and we're still surprising them to this day," Stamkos said. "I think we've gained a lot of respect and we're a tough team to play at home. The crowds have been great this year and we're finally giving the home fans something to cheer about. The buzz is back in the city and it's something we want to use to our advantage."

Follow Dan Rosen on Twitter at: @drosennhl

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