During the regular season, the Tampa Bay Lightning were a different team at home than they were on the road.
The Lightning set a franchise mark for home wins, going 32-8-1, the best record in the National Hockey League.
On the road, the Bolts were a much more pedestrian 18-16-7.
Those numbers, however, haven’t held up during the playoffs.
The Lightning took two of three games in Detroit’s Joe Louis Arena, including a Game 6 elimination game. In the Second Round, the Bolts again proved their road mettle, silencing a raucous Bell Centre crowd with a 2-1 double overtime victory in Game 1.
“I think the home team plays under more pressure in the playoffs.” Tampa Bay head coach Jon Cooper said. “The crowd’s jacked up. The atmosphere is unreal. There’s just so much tension to it, I think the home team sometimes almost tries too hard. And for the road team, we just go in and do your road thing.
“It sounds weird, but it’s like the pressure’s less when you play on the road.”
The Lightning will try to improve their playoff road record to 4-1 after tonight’s Game 2 at the Bell Centre (puck drop 6 p.m.). The Bolts have won three in a row on the road after losing Game 3 in Detroit.
“We’re not hanging our hats that when we go back to Amalie Arena it’s a given that we’re going to win all those games there,” said Cooper, whose team is 2-2 at home so far in the playoffs. ”You’re probably going to have to win another game on the road to win this series. The faster you can do it, the better.”
Lightning center Brian Boyle said he thought the Bolts did a better job of playing on the road as the regular season wore on and that momentum has carried over into the postseason. Plus, no team is at an advantage or a disadvantage in terms of the schedule.
“For the most part, teams are similar on the same amount of rest between games,” Boyle said. “You’re not on a 10-day road trip. That’s the only thing I can really speak of…We need to win every game, and it’s something we’ve done a pretty good job of so far. We need to continue that.”
Steven Stamkos led the Lightning in the regular season with 43 goals and finished second overall in the NHL behind Rocket Richard Trophy winner Alex Ovechkin of Washington (53 goals).
But Stamkos has yet to score in the postseason and is on a nine-game scoring drought, his longest of the season.
Cooper, however, isn’t worried about his captain’s lack of goal production.
“He’s not just a goal scorer,” Cooper said. “He can play 200 feet of the ice, and I think everybody focuses on his goal scoring and then doesn’t really focus on the other aspects of the game.”
Boyle said Stamkos still commands plenty of attention from the opposition when it’s his turn to take a shift.
“I guarantee every shift he’s out the ice, Montreal’s going to know it,” Boyle said. “He’s going to keep understanding they’re going to play him hard. For here on out, he’s going to be closely watched and he has been probably the last few years of his career anyways. He understands that. We expect him to continue doing what he’s doing, and we know he’s going to put the puck in the net.”
Stamkos provides so much more for the Lightning besides just scoring according to Cooper.
“He’s up there and leading our team in shots and doing all these things, they just haven’t gone in for him yet,” Cooper said. “Eventually they will, but we just don’t have him out on the ice because he’s a goal scorer. The kid can play hockey. We wouldn’t have him out there in key situations and late in the game when we’re up if we didn’t think he could do the job, and that kid can do the job. The spotlight’s on him to score goals, and when he doesn’t, alarms start going off. But not with us.”
BACK INTO THE FRYING PAN
The Lightning spent all day Saturday resting after playing 80-plus minutes Friday night in Game 1, that coming two days after an emotionally-draining Game 7 versus Detroit in Tampa.
Defenseman Matt Carle said he spent most of the day horizontal. Boyle got up late, ate breakfast, walked around the block of the team hotel in Montreal once and then went back to his room to watch TV and sleep.
Boyle said it’s difficult to play again 48 hours after a physically exhausting game.
But it’s the playoffs and is to be expected.
“We have a pretty good training staff,” Boyle said. “They take care of us really, really well. We understand how to recover and rest. We haven’t played back-to-back yet. I think we’re all in pretty good shape, or we should be. We’re pro athletes so it’s something there’s a mental part of it where you might get a little bit tired and think it’s getting difficult, but once the game starts and the crowd gets going, it kind of goes away.”