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Erik Condra eyes return for Game 3

by Staff Writer / Tampa Bay Lightning

The Tampa Bay Lightning held their first practice on the Barclays Center ice Monday ahead of today’s Game 3 in the Second Round series versus the New York Islanders.

And a couple of players who missed Game 2 were back out there training with the Bolts.

Erik Condra, pushed hard into the bottom of the boards by New York’s Casey Cizikas early in the series opener and held out of Game 2 with a resulting upper-body injury, returned to training and took rushes on the fourth line with Vladislav Namestnikov (center) and Jonathan Marchessault (right wing). Condra said he’s skated twice now since the injury and has been improving every day.

“I feel good, so that’s the first step to anything like this,” Condra answered when asked if he would be available for Game 3. “You obviously need to be smart, but as long as you’re feeling good, you never know.”

Condra says he remembers going into the boards but not too much else after that.

It’s a scary thing,” he said. “That’s the part of the sport that’s a little scary, but it happens I guess.”

Condra had his back to Cizikas and turned to shoot the puck up the ice when Cizikas delivered a check that knocked him off his feet and slammed him simultaneously onto the ice and into the boards.

“I didn’t think he was going to be on my left side obviously or else I would have turned right,” Condra said. “He caught me square, and it was just unfortunate the distance I was away from the boards. If I’m closer or if I’m farther away, none of that happens.”

Condra said he was foggy after the hit but felt fine 10 minutes later once he got to the locker room.

“It’s weird sometimes, I’ve seen guys go through it where they just get bumped and they’re out for months and something looks really bad and you feel pretty good the next day,” he said. “That’s kind of how it was for me for whatever reason. I’m happy about that.”

Lightning forward Mike Blunden also returned to practice on Monday after sitting out Games 1 and 2 with an upper-body injury. Both Condra and Blunden will be re-evaluated Tuesday before determining their status for Game 3.

“We’ll see how our guys feel (Tuesday),” Lightning head coach Jon Cooper said when asked if either would be available tonight.

Matt Carle, who suffered an undisclosed injury in Game 1 and also missed Game 2, did not skate with the team on Monday, making it unlikely he’ll be able to get into tonight’s game. As for longer term injuries to Anton Stralman (non-displaced fracture of left fibula) and J.T. Brown (upper-body injury), Cooper remained positive about their chances of eventually playing in the Islanders series.

“I’m always glass half full, so I’m always thinking there’s a chance,” he said.

PRACTICE MAKES PERFECT

The Lightning were beaten badly 5-2 by the Islanders in their lone appearance at the Barclays Center during the final week of the regular season, but the defeat might in fact be beneficial for the Bolts as the series shifts venues.

The fact that loss happened less than a month ago means Tampa Bay’s appearance in Brooklyn is still fresh on the team’s mind. They’ve had a chance to get a look at the new arena and won’t be stepping into unfamiliar territory tonight.

“We know where to go in the locker room, we know how to get on the ice. All those little things, they actually matter,” Cooper said. “It was probably good for us to play the game right at the end of the year so now we’re a little familiar. Even getting to the rink today, I was like, ‘I actually know how to do it.’ So in that respect, yes, I think the fact we played them at the end of the year helped.”

The Lightning also now know what to expect from the Islanders’ fan base, which hasn’t deviated from its boisterous reputation despite the new digs.

“We’ve got to understand we’re coming into a loud building,” Lightning center Brian Boyle said. “They get pretty excited, especially when they get a little bit of momentum during the game. The crowd will really get into it. It’s a tough building to play in for a lot of different reasons, but it’s a little bit different kind of building than we’re used to. It’s a playoff game in New York. It’s a great opportunity.”

LIMITING CHANCES

The Lightning held the Islanders to just 22 shots in the opening game of their Second Round series.

In Game 2, the Isles had only 20 shots, a playoff-low for a Lightning opponent in 2016.

In that Tampa Bay victory on Saturday, New York only registered five shots over the final 30 minutes, including just three in the final period despite pressing to get back in the game trailing by two goals.

So, how were the Lightning able to keep the Islanders from generating anything toward Ben Bishop’s net as Game 2 progressed?

“We had the puck,” Cooper said. “I think we were getting a little energized by the crowd and how the game was going. The difference from Game 1 is they had a big lead on us, and I think we were playing a little bit desperate, maybe they were sitting back. This game we had the lead and the guys were playing the game to win. I liked the fact that we were just attacking. We weren’t sitting back trying to protect the lead.”

One stretch in the third period exemplified Tampa Bay’s control of the puck. With both teams reduced to four skaters following matching penalties to Jonathan Marchessault and Ryan Strome, the Lightning held the puck in the Islanders’ zone for the first 1:50 of the 4-on-4, creating numerous scoring chances and playing keep away from the Isles.

“Don’t get me wrong, it was an outstanding shift by our guys,” Cooper said. “We changed a couple times. We had the possession, but we were aided by the fact that (Travis) Hamonic broke his stick. So now it’s really, you open up the ice and you have a guy without his stick, it gave us a little more of a chance. In saying that, we’re really confident in our game and making plays and shooting pucks and retrieving. We can be pretty effective, and that was a really good sign of the way we were playing.”

ODDS AND ENDS

Tampa Bay center Tyler Johnson recorded his second multi-goal game of the 2016 playoffs and sixth career multi-goal playoff game of his career in Game 2 to move into a tie with Vincent Lecavalier for the franchise record for multi-goal postseason games per the Elias Sports Bureau…Also per Elias, Jonathan Drouin, at 21 years, 34 days, became the youngest player in Lightning franchise history to net a game-winning goal in the playoffs with his first-period score in Game 2…Johnson and Nikita Kucherov are tied for the best plus-minus rating (+8) in the playoffs…The Lightning have lost their last three meetings with the Islanders on the road and seven of their last eight.

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