The day after a disappointing home loss in Game 5 of their First Round series against Detroit, the Tampa Bay Lightning are drawing from previous playoff experience for encouragement.
Specifically, in 2011, the Lightning trailed Pittsburgh three-games-to-one in their best-of-seven opening-round series but rallied to win the next three, including an 8-2 rout of the Penguins in Pittsburgh in Game 5.
The Lightning would go on to advance to the Eastern Conference finals before falling in seven games to the Boston Bruins that season.
“2011, it feels like forever, but we were down 3-1 and had to go into (Pittsburgh) to take it to Game 6,” said Lightning defenseman Victor Hedman, who was in his second year in the NHL that season. “It’s all about belief, and belief that you can do it. I’m not worried about this group at all. We know we can do it, and that’s kind of the mindset we touched on today. We believe in this group and we’ve been through a lot this year, so that’s about us believing in what we can do.”
The Lightning have a couple other players with more recent experience coming from behind in a playoff series. Last season, Anton Stralman and Brian Boyle, while on their way to the Stanley Cup Finals with the New York Rangers, trailed Pittsburgh 3-1 in the Second Round before rallying to win three straight.
“Sometimes you can surprise yourself with what you’re capable of doing,” Boyle said. “…People write you off, it’s fine. We’re a confident group. We need to play better than we have is the bottom line. I don’t think we’ve played as well as we can. We’ve won two of five. We have a chance to tie it up. It’s going to be difficult obviously but we have a chance to do it.”
Stralman said the team needs to have the mindset of playing “the game of the year” going into Game 6 in Detroit on Monday.
“Work hard, follow our systems, make sure we follow the plan no matter what happens,” he said. “Obviously determination is big and belief. At this time, all you can do is believe in what you’re doing out there. It’s going to work out if you do it the right way. It’s going to pay off.”
THE DAY AFTER
Lightning head coach Jon Cooper said the team had plenty of time to stew over Saturday night’s performance on the plane ride to Detroit.
Now that they’ve had a night to sleep on the loss, it was time to get back to work Sunday breaking down video and figuring out a way to break down Detroit’s grip on the Bolts’ attack.
“The guys understand what’s going on here,” Cooper said following a team meeting in the lobby of their Detroit hotel. “There was a lot of focus in there today and a lot of players saying, they’re just not saying the right things, they’re saying things they mean and it was good to hear from some of the players that have been down this road before and been down.
“It was good. It was positive.”
Stralman said it’s important for the team to play together rather than one or two individual players feeling like it’s on them to bring the Bolts back from the brink of elimination.
“Every time you lose a game like that and not feeling good about your game, you’re very disappointed,” he said. “At the same time, the sun came up this morning. It’s a new day. Just really have to focus on what’s coming. You can’t look back in the past in a playoff series. What’s done is done, and this is not over yet. “We can still change the outcome of the series if we play to our strengths and then believe.”
During the team meeting, Cooper delivered one primary message to his players: “We’ve been together eight months now,” he said. “It’s as good a group as I’ve ever coached. It would be a shame to have it all end tomorrow night.”