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Home ice disadvantage? Road teams finding historic success in playoffs

The Lightning hope to continue that trend tonight in Game 4

by Bryan Burns /

National Hockey League teams battle over the course of an 82-game regular season to first qualify for the postseason and second claim a higher seed for home-ice advantage in the playoffs.

But in the 2018 Stanley Cup Playoffs, home-ice advantage has been anything but.

Entering Thursday, home teams are 34-39 this postseason, a win percentage of just .466, the second-lowest for a playoffs since the post-1967 expansion era.

In the Eastern Conference Final, that win percentage is even worse.

Like, 0 percent worse.

Video: Stralman on sticking to the structure

In all three games to start the ECF between the Tampa Bay Lightning and the Washington Capitals, neither team has been able to win on home ice. The Capitals outscored the Lightning 10-4 combined in Games 1 and 2 to exit AMALIE Arena with a 2-0 lead in the series.

The Bolts got back in the series in Game 3 at Washington D.C.'s Capital One Arena after jumping out to a 3-0 lead and winning 4-2.

So what gives?

"I don't know. I can't answer that," Lightning forward Tyler Johnson said. "We're just trying to do the best we can. Luckily we got that game, and now we've got to get this one."

The Lightning hope the road-team-winning trend continues for just one more contest tonight in Game 4, where the Bolts will look to even the series 2-2 before heading back to Tampa for Game 5 on Saturday.

Tampa Bay has been one of the strongest road teams in the playoffs this season, going 4-1 away from home, including four-consecutive road victories. The Lightning's .800 road win percentage this postseason is second-best in the NHL.

The best?

Washington and its .875 road win percentage on a 7-1 road record.

"It's the million dollar question right now I guess," Bolts right winger Ryan Callahan said. "You don't change your mindset. You don't change your focus. It's just how it works sometimes. We're expecting a lot better from (the Capitals) tonight. Especially at home here, they're going to have a hard start. We just have to continue worrying about us and playing the way we did in Game 3 and making sure we weather the storm early and keep going."

LINE SWITCH REMAINS: Early in Tampa Bay's Game 3 victory, Lightning head coach Jon Cooper switched up the lines the Bolts had used for the duration of the playoffs and much of the regular season, moving Ondrej Palat up to the top line with Steven Stamkos and Nikita Kucherov; bringing Yanni Gourde up alongside Tyler Johnson and Brayden Point; and combining J.T. Miller with Alex Killorn and Tony Cirelli on a revamped third line.

The new combinations seemed to work. The Lightning scored a pair of 5-on-5 goals after netting just one during the first two games in the series.

Following Thursday's morning skate, Cooper indicated the Lightning will continue to use those new lines in Game 4.

Video: Cooper | Pregame ECF Game 4

"It was kind of changing that chemistry a little bit, maybe putting a little bit more defensive awareness on some lines and adding some weight to the Cirelli-Killer line was something we were, kind of in the role they play and he did a really good job," Cooper said.

The Lightning aren't married to any lines, however, and feel guys can move around when necessary without disrupting the chemistry between the group, mainly because each player knows how to play with every one of their teammates.

"That's one good thing about the regular season is you get to look back and test some of these things," Cooper said.

STAMKOS SCARE: Lightning captain Steven Stamkos briefly left Thursday's morning skate when he took a puck up high moments after stepping onto the ice.

He immediately headed back to the locker room but returned to morning skate a few minutes later looking no worse for the wear.

"I didn't even see what happened, but I think it was ricocheted puck," Cooper said. "He's fine."

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