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Esposé – A Big Home Stand, A Big Opportunity

by Phil Esposito / Tampa Bay Lightning

The Lightning return home this week to play five of the next six at the Tampa Bay Times Forum, which in my mind, is absolutely huge if they’re going to make a surge and jump right back into the playoff picture.

People always ask me what makes this team so good at home. They say, ‘how can a team, any team, be great at home and then not win on the road?’

First of all, there is something about the energy of a crowd in your home arena that makes you want to go out and give it your best shot.

I’ve played this game, I’ve watched from the executive general manager’s suite, and I’ve seen this game played from the broadcast booth, and I can honestly tell you that from all three viewpoints, the atmosphere in the building is the same no matter where you are in the arena.

This is your home, your fans, these guys play more often here than they do anywhere else, and they feel more comfortable here.

On the road, it’s a little different. There’s an intimidation factor. They don’t have that here when they play in Tampa.

Imagine how our guys feel when they play at home. They want to put on a show, they want to please the fans, and you go somewhere else and guess what, the other team in their home arena feels the same way, so they’re going to really hammer you.

Being a player in both New York and Boston, in those big markets, I can tell you first-hand, when I was a player, there was no one, and I mean no one, who came into our building and had an easy game against us. There’s a large respect factor at play, and no one wants to be disrespected in front of their home fans.

As far as the road goes, there are struggles, but do not come and tell me that this team we have here this year cannot win on the road. Do not tell me that. You better believe they can.

Hear more from Lightning Founder Phil Esposito as  he blogs on....

I think that if this team comes home this week and plays the same way it did in Boston and in New Jersey a few days back, they can really do themselves a favor and collect some important points in the standings.

The wins weren’t there on some of those, but honestly, I think they’ve been playing great.

As Guy Boucher said, they are playing hard, but at certain times of the game, they’re sabotaging themselves. If they play smart, they can win anywhere. But they made some really stupid mistakes that led to goals at bad times in the game, and that proved to be the difference. I’ve been around the game a long time, and it only takes one or two mental errors to cost you, or even have an effect in the outcome of the game. You make one or two mistakes and sometimes they go unnoticed, but most of the time they end up in your net and you start to panic. Then you get in a rut and you can’t figure it out.

I think that’s why everyone feels confused by the 6-1-0 start, and I do not buy into any of that garbage about how we played teams who played the night before, who had their backup goaltenders in, none of that.

The reason we got off to such a fast start is because the power play was absolutely fantastic. They were at 35 or 36 percent. That is incredible. We came out fabulous at the start of the season, and I mean absolutely fabulous. But then they found ways to lose, and that has to change.

I think that’s where coming home really helps. I don’t see them making as many errors at home and I see them scoring more goals at home. The familiarity adds to the mix, but it all boils down to if you’re ready mentally or if you’re not ready mentally.

There’s no doubt about it that this is a big stretch for the Lightning, and I think they know it.

Five games out of the next six at home. That’s 10 points you want to try and pick up. Would we be satisfied with eight? I think it’s worth thinking about, but at this stage of the year and in their position, I think you have to tell yourself you’re getting all 10.

But by no stretch of the imagination is this team out of the playoffs. You can point to the standings and say we’re in 12th or we only have two more points than the last place team, but it makes me so angry when I hear that this team is out of the playoffs. I hear that, and I say, ‘you’re nuts.’

We’re three points out of the last spot, and I believe now, just as I did back when the season started, that this is a playoff team.

We’re halfway through the season, so if this team is seriously going to make a push, it has to start now, and lucky for them, it has to start on this stretch where they play a majority of games at home.

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