MONTREAL– Less than 24 hours after the Tampa Bay Lightning dropped its third straight game of the series to the Montreal Canadiens, head coach Jon Cooper was spotted interviewing captain Steven Stamkos with a water bottle in hand as his makeshift microphone.
From the outside it might have seemed rather odd to see a head coach acting that way at this particular point in the series, but from the Lightning’s perspective it was just another opportunity for Cooper to keep the atmosphere light in the locker room and remind the Bolts that this is something they can overcome.
“I’m pretty sure they weren’t even paying attention to me,” Cooper said. “These guys are focused on the game at hand, but if you can’t put a little humor in life, seriously, who are we?”
And the team has devoted themselves to following Cooper’s example by remaining even keeled.
"You can’t really get down on yourselves right now," Tyler Johnson said. "We know what's at stake, we know what our job is and we know what we have to do."
Of course the adversity the Bolts have battled through, as a collective group, has not been anywhere near this caliber with elimination on the line, but it is something that many on them have faced individually in the past.
Last year, a number of Lightning teammates were a part of its AHL affiliate, the Syracuse Crunch, trying to ward off elimination by the Grand Rapids Griffins in the Calder Cup Finals. Grand Rapids held an impressive 3-0 advantage in the series and the Crunch managed to win the next two.
“We focused on winning one game at this point last year,” J.T. Brown said. “That’s the main focus we have to have. If you’re looking on from there, you’ll be looking too far into the future, which you can’t predict.”
In fact, if the Bolts do focus on anything past Tuesday night, the Canadiens may have already won the battle.
“If we’re looking at going back to Tampa and all that would bring, we’ve already lost,” alternate captain Eric Brewer said.
It also means the Lightning has to continue to build on the positives that made Sunday its best game yet.
“That was us finally playing our game,” Johnson said.
While Stamkos is the first to say the Lightning “want to do something that not a lot of teams in this league have done,” it will take more than showing it can play better to be a part of history.
Time is running out.
“Getting better isn’t good enough anymore,” Cooper said. “We have to be great.”
Only three teams in NHL postseason history have come back to win a series after falling behind 3-0 – the Philadelphia Flyers (2010), New York Islanders (1975) and Toronto Maple Leafs (1942). Montreal also holds a 31-0 record in series in which it has won the first three games.
Yet, instead of looking at the statistics, which make the Habs the odds-on favorite, the Lightning will stick with it’s one game-at-a-time mentality that has made it successful before.
If that falls in Tampa Bay's favor, then maybe, just maybe, it's worth asking, 'what if?'
“We could be talking about something special here after tonight,” Stamkos said.