Ten days ago in Tampa, the Lightning scored three goals in the first period and opened up a 5-1 lead before eventually defeating Anaheim 5-3.
The Bolts will go for the regular-season sweep of the Ducks tonight at the Honda Center. Anaheim, which led the NHL standings for much of the season, has cooled of late, going 4-5-1 over its last 10 games. The Ducks (77 points) continue to pace the Pacific Division by a sizable margin but are now fourth in the league behind Nashville (84), St. Louis (78) and Montreal (78) and tied with the New York Islanders (77).
Anaheim is one point better than the Lightning (76) currently.
“You come out and get a 3-0 lead, especially you walk out of the first period with a 3-0 lead, you’re giving yourself a pretty good chance to win the hockey game,” Tampa Bay coach Jon Cooper said. “I think our speed helped us out. Even though they’ve got a fast team as well, but I think we really capitalized on our chances in that game.”
The Bolts’ blazing fast start came a day after giving up three opening-period goals to the Los Angeles Kings in Tampa and falling 4-2.
“Maybe that caught (Anaheim) off guard a little bit,” Lightning captain Steven Stamkos said. “They’ve got some great players. They have some guys that are banged up now, so they’re going to have some fresh legs in the lineup.”
A victory tonight in Anaheim, a place where the Lightning have gone 1-0-3 in their last four visits, would give the Bolts wins in two of their first three games on the current five-game road trip and four out of a possible six points.
“We realized we obviously started the road trip off with a big win,” Stamkos said. “I thought we played a pretty decent game against L.A., obviously a couple mistakes in the third and against a team like that you can’t afford to make those, but I think we’re a confident group…(Tonight’s) not a do or die situation, but we want to get some momentum rolling to end the trip.”
The Lightning surrendered two late, third-period goals to the Ducks in the first meeting to make the 5-3 final look much closer than the game dictated.
Cooper said the Bolts can’t afford any long-stretch lapses this go-round in Anaheim.
“We treated the game like a 5-1 game instead of a 1-1 game,” he said. “We can’t do that.”
The Lightning will have to play the way they did in the first period 10 days ago against Anaheim over the length of the game to leave Orange County with a win.
“Maybe not so much get three (goals), but we’re going to have to play that way for the full 60, that type of mindset,” Cooper said. “This will be a tough one.”
Tampa Bay’s power play continues to languish among the bottom of the NHL at 17.2 percent, which ranks 23rd in the league.
The Lightning’s struggles with the man-advantage are perplexing considering the team’s personnel. Add in the fact the Bolts have scored more goals (189) than anybody else in the league, and it becomes difficult to understand why the team hasn’t enjoyed more success on the power play.
“We’re trying a bunch of different things right now. Things aren’t going well,” Stamkos said. “When things aren’t going well, you try to simplify it and get some shots. It’s been pretty disappointing with the results of our power plays. That can win you some games when you have a good one, and we haven’t been able to do that.”
Stamkos said the Lightning’s power-play woes are as much mental as they are physical.
You have to have the right mix of guys out there, and, obviously, when things aren’t going well, you’re pressing a little maybe thinking about it too much,” he said. “We need a game where we can get two or three and get the confidence rolling. Hopefully, we can do that soon.”
In recent games, the Lightning have experimented with putting two defensemen up top, Victor Hedman and Jason Garrison, as a way of trying to get more shots on net. Positive results haven’t come yet, though, the Bolts scoring just four power-play goals in their last 15 games.
“We need to get a little bit more of a shot mentality,” Cooper said. “Now we’ve just got to make sure we’re putting guys in the right spots so there’s traffic at the net and we’re creating a little bit of chaos when those shots come in. When you keep having that mentality and traffic down there, eventually pucks are going to bounce on sticks, and hopefully that’ll happen tonight.”