MONTREAL – Friday was more than just a loss, it was a disappointment and sent the Lightning to Montreal with a 2-0 hole in the best-of-seven series. It was a scenario that the Tampa Bay Lightning has found itself in time and time again this year, a team against the odds.
And what did it do amidst the circumstances? It held a meeting.
Headed by a cast of players who’ve experienced this time of year – Eric Brewer, Nate Thompson, Ryan Callahan and captain Steven Stamkos – the group of veterans reminded the team that they still have “a lot left in the tank.”
“We haven’t played close to the style or level of hockey we played in the regular season,” Stamkos said. “We’re trying to stay confident, light and have some fun. You work so hard to get here, so we need to enjoy the moment and embrace it.”
The obstacle the Bolts are trying to overcome has been done before, of course, but the team that wins the first two games of a best-of-seven Stanley Cup Playoffs series is heavily favorited. According to Elias Sports Bureau, a team taking a 2-0 lead holds an all-time record of 287-45, while a team that won the first two on the road is 61-18 all-time in the series.
Will the Bolts get the spark they need by starting another goalie?
Head coach Jon Cooper urged that there is “no controversy,” on that front after Kristers Gudlevskis relieved Anders Lindback with less than 10 minutes left in the third period Friday. The statement was then justified when Lindback left the ice first during Sunday’s morning skate.
“Don’t bother looking at our goalie,” Cooper said. “Our goalie has kept us in games, he hasn’t lost us any.”
Ondrej Palat, who was missing from the lineup in Game Two, skated with the team the past two days and could also provide the flicker they need.
“Not one guy can fill his shoes,” Ryan Callahan said. “There’s no secret defensively and offensively he brings a lot to this lineup."
Palat remains a game-time decision, but there is no question his offensive play led the team during the regular season, and can help trigger whatever line he is a part of in the playoffs too.
Playing within the confines of the Bell Centre, an environment known for its hockey tradition among its fans, could also be a key. But before anything else, it will take getting back to the basics that were instilled during training camp.
“For us to hit a home run, it takes team defense,” Cooper said. “There was proof in the pudding in Game One when we scored four goals, but couldn’t win the game. Everything starts with our defense and it doesn’t change in the playoffs, it actually gets stingier. “
That means the Lightning must remember not what it is playing for, but who.
“This group is close,” Victor Hedman said. “We need to look at ourselves in the mirror and play for the person next to us.”
Even Callahan, a relative newcomer that played in just the last quarter of Tampa Bay’s schedule, knows what this team can do when they play as a unit of one.
“I have full confidence that we can respond and we will respond,” Callahan said. “We’re going to stick together like we have all year.”
A third straight loss digs the Bolts’ hole a little deeper making Tuesday a term they have avoided all series long– a must win. A victory on the other hand creates a whole different outlook that can generate life back into the club, by being just one game closer to evening the series at two.