The Tampa Bay Lightning got back on the ice Monday morning for the first time since their 2-0, Game 7 victory over the New York Rangers on Friday.
The Lightning spent the last two days resting and reveling in their Eastern Conference championship and upcoming appearance in the Stanley Cup Final, which begins Wednesday with Game 1 at Amalie Arena (8 p.m. puck drop) versus the Chicago Blackhawks.
“I think the one thing that I kind of cherished in this whole thing is getting the two days off from our last game,” Lightning head coach Jon Cooper said. “I can see everybody had that little extra jump in their step in the sense that we just needed a little bit of rest. It’s been a phenomenal ride. It’s still going for us. I could tell the guys were excited, but it was good for the guys to get away and come back. Tomorrow’s really when we’ll kick in and start really planning for our opponent. It was just good to get a couple days off and have a little fun on the ice.”
Consecutive days off have been rare for the Lightning of late. The Bolts had a pair of off days before Game 7 but prior to that were playing every other day.
Getting to step away from the rink for a few should help the Lightning recharge their batteries ahead of what is expected to be another long, arduous series against the Blackhawks.
“That last series was pretty demanding as far as every other day for the first six games, back and forth, and then having those two days off at the end was pretty nice before Game 7,” Ben Bishop said. “To have a couple days off was a little weird. You’re not used to it, but it’s nice. I think everybody can kind of sit back and kind of look back at what you’ve done so far and realize that there’s some unfinished business and you really haven’t accomplished anything yet.”
The Chicago Blackhawks have advanced to the Stanley Cup Final three of the past six seasons, winning the Cup in 2010 and 2013.
The Blackhawks have made it to the Western Conference Final each of the last three seasons.
To say they’re a team with postseason experience would be an understatement.
“Their skill is right up there in the league, second to none maybe,” Steven Stamkos said. “You look at their top two lines and their top four D, it’s almost like the Harlem Globetrotters out there at times on the ice the way they can pass it and move. You can see that they’ve played together for a while, that core bunch of guys, they know where they are on the ice all the time. Their role players have been great too, I mean, they’ve got some pretty skilled guys on the third and fourth lines too. They’ve won. They’ve proven they can win at this time of year, and they’re champions for a reason.”
The Lightning are in the opposite boat, making their second-ever Cup Final appearance and first in 11 years. Yet, the Bolts went up against postseason stalwarts like Detroit, Montreal and the New York Rangers in consecutive playoff rounds and prevailed.
Chicago will be the fourth Original Six team the Lightning will play this postseason.
“Experience is a great thing to have but for a lot of the guys you have to go through it at one point or another to gain it,” Stamkos said “For us, I think we’ve grown a lot as a team throughout these playoffs. Everyone has Game 7 experience. We didn’t have that at the beginning of the playoffs. Everyone’s been a conference champion now. We didn’t have that at the beginning of the playoffs. You have to go through it in order to gain that experience, and this is another step of obviously going toward the ultimate goal of winning the Cup.”
NO LOSING STREAKS
The Lightning have compiled an incredible 7-1 record following a loss in the 2015 Playoffs, a trend that has carried over from the regular season when the Bolts were the only team in the NHL not to drop three games in a row.
The only time Tampa Bay has lost two-straight games this postseason came after jumping out to a three-games-to-none lead in the Second Round against Montreal.
After the Canadiens rallied to inch closer in the series with consecutive wins, the Lightning quickly shut the door, winning 4-1 at home in Game 6 to advance to the Eastern Conference Final.
“You look at the last couple of years, and we take a lot of pride in trying not to lose two in a row, especially not three in a row,” Bishop said. “I don’t think we’ve really had too many streaks where we were on the wrong side of things, and I think it just didn’t happen in the playoffs. It’s kind of been the last couple of years where we’ve really tried hard not to get on the wrong side of things.”
Tampa Bay gets to open the Stanley Cup Final at home and will play Games 5 and 7 at Amalie Arena if necessary.
The Lightning were the best home team in the league during the regular season, going 32-8-1, their 32 wins a new franchise record.
It’s been a different story in the playoffs however. The Bolts are just 5-5 at home and have lost their last two at Amalie Arena.
Conversely, the Lightning won three of four games at New York’s Madison Square Garden in the ECF and are 7-3 overall on the road this postseason.
“We haven’t put a whole ton of stock on where we start or where we play,” Cooper said. “You sit there and say, ‘Well, you get the home ice because of Game 7.’ We didn’t have Game 7 in the last series and we found a way. Any opportunity you get to play in front of your fans, especially for family that have come and followed us, supported us all year, the more opportunities we can play in front of them, I think it’s just a bonus for all of us.”