The Lightning, the best home team in the NHL during the regular season with a 32-8-1 record, have gone just 5-6 at Amalie Arena in the playoffs and have dropped four of their last six on home ice.
In losing three in a row, the Bolts have been outscored 14-5.
“We’ve got a find a way to get a win here, and it starts tonight,” said Lightning All-Star center Tyler Johnson, who will be trying to snap a five-game goalless drought of his own.
The Lightning were better at home in Game 1 of the Stanley Cup Final, holding a 1-0 lead for much of the contest until two late Chicago goals in the third period turned the game in favor of the Hawks.
Early in the home losing streak, the Lightning were blitzed 5-1 and 7-3 by the New York Rangers in Games 4 and 6, respectively, of the ECF.
“I think we want to put on a good performance in front of our fans, and maybe we get a little bit too excited at times,” Lightning defenseman Anton Stralman said. “I think the last game we played was a much better game. We were way more improved to the two home games, the two last home games where we gave up way too many goals. I think we definitely have some things to clean up.”
The Lightning are 7-1 in bounce-back games – the match directly following a loss -- during the postseason.
“We’re a character team,” Stralman said. “We definitely don’t enjoy losing, and, when we do, we obviously get back on track. I think that’s a big reason why we’ve been successful as a team that we don’t accept it and get right back on it.”
The Blackhawks are 6-4 on the road during the 2015 Playoffs and have won two-straight away from the United Center.
Tampa Bay’s high-producing Triplets line has been stymied of late and was shut out in Game 1 of the Stanley Cup Final.
Johnson hasn’t scored since Game 3 of the Eastern Conference Final after tallying 12 goals in the Bolts’ first 16 postseason games. Johnson tied Brad Richards’ (2004) and Ruslan Fedotenko’s (2004) franchise record for most goals in a playoff season during Game 3 of the ECF but hasn’t been able to surpass the pair in five games since.
“It’s always nice to get goals,” Johnson said. “It’s always nice to contribute that way. There’s a lot more to the game than scoring goals, and we’re still winning games in games I haven’t scored. As long as we’re winning, it doesn’t matter. I want to be better. I want to play to the best I can, but there’s a lot more aspects that I want to work on my game more than just scoring goals.”
Right wing Nikita Kucherov hasn’t recorded a point in his last two games.
“I don’t think we’re playing our game right now,” Kucherov said. “Tonight, we’ve got to be better and get more shots on the net and play in their zone as much as we can.”
Left wing Ondrej Palat has only one goal and two points in his last five games.
Johnson said he doesn’t think the Blackhawks are doing anything differently to shut him and his linemates down.
“I think as the playoffs go on, it gets harder to score,” he said. “Our line right now, we’re playing just average. We’re not doing as well as we should. We know that.
“It’s time for us to step up.”
Lightning rookie Jonathan Drouin told reporters Saturday following the Bolts’ optional morning skate he’d take part in tonight’s warmups.
Whether he makes his first playoff appearance since Game 4 of the Montreal series is yet to be determined.
“For these playoffs, we’ve always put 21 in warmups, so you’ve got to show up to the game to see who’s going to play,” Lightning head coach Jon Cooper said.
Drouin, the third overall pick in the 2013 NHL Entry Draft, has played in three playoff games for the Lightning but hasn’t registered a point and is a minus-four.
During the regular season, Drouin scored four goals and added 28 assists in 70 games.
“He’s a talented player, and I think we’ve watched him grow this season,” Cooper said. “He gives us a different look when he’s in the lineup.”
Drouin said it’s tough to crack the Lightning lineup because of the plethora of talented forwards on the team, but if his number’s called tonight, he’ll be ready.
“It definitely is hard (remaining confident) when you’re not playing in games,” Drouin said. “When you go out there, if you get in the game, you’ve got to make sure you’re ready.”
Cooper said he doesn’t expect it will take Drouin long to get in the flow of the game if he plays, despite not seeing action in a month.
“If he’s in tonight, is it going to be a little bit to be bumped differently and feel the flow of the game and the speed of the game? There’s no question,” Cooper said. “But, they’re all National Hockey League players. It doesn’t take them long. If anything, these guys come in, they don’t have the bumps and bruises. They’re a little more fresh, and they’re probably better off.”
If Drouin does skate tonight, the Lightning could revert to their 12 forward/6 defensemen alignment they used nearly every game during the regular season.
The Bolts have gone 11/7 for the majority of the playoffs, including Game 1 on Wednesday.
The Lightning are 8-4 going 11/7 and 4-5 going 12/6.
Asked which alignment he’ll use tonight, Cooper joked, “How about 10 and 8?”