Game 6 between the Panthers and Islanders is scheduled for Sunday.
Game 7 would be Tuesday.
This fact is important for the Lightning because they have a chance to close out their First Round series against the Detroit Red Wings in Game 5 tonight at Amalie Arena. The Bolts own a three-games-to-one lead in the series following a 3-2 win in Game 4 at Detroit on Tuesday.
Tampa Bay would play the winner of the Panthers-Islanders series in the Second Round, so the Lightning could get at least five days off without a game and potentially a full week should they close out the Red Wings tonight.
Of course, the Lightning aren’t worried about rest right now.
They’re just focused on putting away a pesky Detroit team.
“I think just trying to get the series done is the biggest motivation, just trying to win the series and advance is the biggest thing,” Lightning forward Brian Boyle said. “We’re playing against a good club. They had a lot of chances in the last game we played. We came out of there with a win from a big power-play goal but it was kind of by the skin of our teeth a little bit. We understand that this is a dangerous team we’re playing against, a motivated team. Our motivation is to win this thing so we can advance.”
Tampa Bay owns a 10-5 record all-time in playoff-clinching games.
“In a perfect world, we’d love to end it tonight,” Lightning head coach Jon Cooper said. “We don’t want to get on a plane. It’s just the wear and tear. Any chance in the playoffs you get a break, you want to take advantage of it.”
Cooper pointed to a couple playoff series last season as an example. The Bolts had a chance to sweep Montreal in the Second Round but lost two clinching games and went to Game 6 before closing out the Habs. With limited rest, the Lightning fell in Game 1 of the Eastern Conference Final to the New York Rangers.
“Was (lack of rest) a part of (losing)? I can’t sit here and say whether it was or not,” Cooper said. “But it didn’t help.”
The Lightning also had a chance to end the ECF in Game 6 at home but lost 7-3 and had to go to Madison Square Garden to beat the Rangers in Game 7, where the Rangers had never lost a Game 7 before. The Bolts survived that test but fell in Game 1 of the Stanley Cup Final to Chicago four days later.
“Any time you get a chance to close a team out, you like to do it,” Cooper said. “I guess in the end, if we don’t do it tonight, eventually you want to be able to do it at some point, but it would be a luxury to be able to do it tonight.”
Ben Bishop has elevated his game with each challenge presented him throughout his Tampa Bay Lightning career.
Bishop won a franchise-best 40 games during the 2014-15 regular season and followed by leading the Bolts within two games of hoisting the Stanley Cup in the ensuing playoffs.
During the recently-completed 2015-16 regular season, Bishop was even more stellar, his 2.06 goals-against average the best among all NHL goalies and tied with John Grahame (2003-04) for the best GAA for a season in Lightning history. His .926 save percentage was second best in the league.
Following that up, Bishop has played maybe the most consistent hockey of his career in the 2016 playoffs.
Bishop has given up just two goals in every game so far in the series and has allowed two goals or less in his last seven playoff starts dating back to last season’s Stanley Cup Final.
Cooper has always maintained if his starting goalie can give up two or less, the Lightning should win the game.
Bishop certainly has been doing his part in the First Round Detroit series.
“Bish has always been a consistent guy for us,” Tampa Bay center Tyler Johnson said. “He’s always been big back there. He’s been a rock. He’s that backbone. He’s a guy we can rely on. Hopefully, you don’t have to rely on him too much, but he’s been huge for us this playoffs and throughout the season and the last playoffs as well. Can’t really say he’s elevated his game that much more because he’s always been at such a high level.”
Of the goals that have beaten Bishop in the series, about half of them have been of the fluky variety. There was the shot by Justin Abdelkader in Game 1 that deflected off the shoulder of Victor Hedman and redirected past Bishop.
A fortuitous carom off the backboard bounced into the slot for a wide-open Dylan Larkin in Game 2.
In Tuesday’s Game 4, Luke Glendening was just trying to cycle the puck behind the Lightning net, but it ended up deflecting off the net, off the stick of Glendening and across the blue paint for Darren Helm to slam home on the back post.
Conversely, pretty much all of Tampa Bay’s goals in the series have been scored off of well-worked passing sequences.
“That’s kind of playoff hockey though,” Johnson said. “Sometimes, those bounces go the wrong way. There’s a couple the last game that just were unfortunate. He’s given us a chance to win every single night, and that’s really all you can ask from a goalie. He’s made some huge saves at key moments. I’ve always said to be an elite team, you have to have elite goaltending.
“We’re glad we have Bish.”
TAORMINA MAKES DEBUT
Reserve defenseman Matt Taormina was recalled from AHL Syracuse before the second-to-last game of the regular season and has been with the Lightning ever since, but he didn’t make the lineup for a playoff game until Game 4 in Detroit.
Taormina only took four shifts and was on the ice for just 2:39, but Cooper said he played well for his first playoff experience.
“In the limited shifts he had, he did everything we asked of him,” Cooper said. “He moved pucks out. He was great. Ultimately, when there are nine power plays in a game, that changes (ice time) a little bit.”
The night was extra special for Taormina because his hometown is Warren, Mich., and he went to Romeo High School, about 45 minutes from Joe Louis Arena.
Taormina said he grew up a Red Wings fan but all that is off the table now that he’s with the Lightning and in a playoff battle with his childhood team.
“Every time I’d come home from college, my uncle had (Red Wings) season tickets and would take me to playoff games and stuff,” Taormina said. “I was always a huge fan, but you’ve got to set that aside for these games.”
Taormina said his favorite Red Wing growing up was Vladimir Konstantinov for a while and then he “grew into a Nicklas Lidstrom fan.” A reporter asked Taormina if he noticed Konstantinov on the Detroit bench prior to Game 3.
“No, I didn’t look over there,” Taormina replied. “Was he? No, I didn’t see him. That’s cool.”
ODDS AND ENDS
The Lightning own the best penalty kill in the 2016 playoffs having dispatched 20 out of 21 Detroit power plays during the series (95.2 percent)…Tampa Bay is 5-9 all-time in Game 5s and has lost four of their last five Game 5s dating back to the 2011 playoffs…The Bolts have held a 3-1 series lead three times in franchise history and have won the previous two series -- 2004 1st Rd. vs. NYI (won in 5 games); 2015 2nd Rd. vs. MTL (won in 6 games)…The Bolts are 4-0 against Detroit at Amalie Arena this season (2 regular season wins, 2 playoff wins).