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Pregame Notebook: Fast start key to Game 3 for Lightning

by Bryan Burns / Tampa Bay Lightning

A year ago, the Tampa Bay Lightning entered Montreal and Game 3 trailing two-games-to-none in their opening round series against the Canadiens.

The Lightning were a desperate team, knowing a third-consecutive loss would, in all likelihood, mean the end to their season.

The Bolts promptly gave up a goal 11 seconds into Game 3 and never recovered, falling 3-2 in the infamous Ryan Callahan/Alex Killorn goaltender interference game.

Tampa Bay would lose again two days later and get swept by Montreal.

Now, Montreal is facing the exact scenario the Lightning were presented in 2014, and the Bolts would like a similar fast start the Canadiens enjoyed to demoralize a Habs team that will probably bring its best hockey to Amalie Arena on Wednesday.

“Especially when you’re at home and you can start well, it’s deflating for the other team, especially when you’re down a couple games, you can kind of have that here-we-go-again moment,” Lightning captain Steven Stamkos said about the importance of starting fast. “But, like I said, we never quit last year, and these guys aren’t going to quit.

“This is far from over.”

After winning both games in Montreal to open the Second Round series, the Lightning have an opportunity to close out the Canadiens on home ice in back-to-backs Wednesday and Thursday.

It’s an opportunity they’re not taking lightly.

“They had the 2-0 lead going back home, and they didn’t take their foot off the gas,” Bolts head coach Jon Cooper said about Montreal in last year’s playoff series. “They kept it going, and they scored on us 11 seconds into Game 3. That’s keeping your foot on the gas. That’s something that’s been talked about in our locker room is we’ve got to go for the jugular here when we’ve got the chance.”

Since a disappointing performance versus Detroit in Game 5 in the First Round, the Lightning have played as well as they have all season of late, winning two elimination games to move past the Red Wings and carrying over that high level with two wins to start the Montreal series.

Matching the Canadiens’ inevitable sense of urgency in Game 3 will be absolutely vital to Tampa Bay continuing their stellar play.

“We know we’re going to get a desperate team over there,” Stamkos said. “We’ve been in that situation before, and you want to give your best effort. This is a huge game for them. I think we realize the magnitude of it coming back in front of our home fans. I think we want to come out and continue to play as strong as we did the first two games.”

STILL GAME-TIME DECISION FOR PAQUETTE

Lightning forward Cedric Paquette skated for a second-straight day at the Bolts’ optional morning skate on Wednesday. Paquette continues to be a full participant in practice sessions, but says it’s still a game-time decision whether he’ll play in tonight’s Game 3.

“I feel better than yesterday,” he said. “Still sore a little bit. We’ll see tonight.”

Paquette was injured on his final shift of the first period in Game 2 and went to the locker room early ahead of the end-of-the-period horn. He came out for a shift in the second but couldn’t continue.

Paquette has one playoff goal in nine games. He scored 12 goals and added seven assists in 64 games for the Lightning in 2014-15.

Paquette said he’ll make a decision whether to play tonight after returning to the rink and having an afternoon to see how his body reacts to the morning skate session.

“I’ll see how I feel when I wake up and talk with the doctor when I come here,” he said. “We’ll see how it feels and go from there.”

BISHOP’S JOURNEY

The Lightning went through the experience of being a young team in the postseason for the first time in a couple years during last season’s First Round loss to Montreal and come into this year’s playoffs a much more mature team as a result.

But, Lightning goaltender Ben Bishop wasn’t afforded that opportunity to grow last season as a dislocated elbow suffered in the final week of the regular season kept him sidelined for the playoffs.

In Game 1 of the Detroit series -- Bishop’s first-ever playoff game, the 6-foot-7 netminder admitted to being nervous. He let in a goal he normally wouldn’t to allow the Red Wings to escape with a 3-2 win, despite the Bolts outshooting the Wings 46-14.

As the playoffs progressed, so too did Bishop. By the end of the Detroit series, Bishop was on top of his game, recording his first career postseason shutout in a 31-save performance in the winner-take-all Game 7.

Bishop has continued to play well in the Second Round against Montreal, making 43 saves in a double overtime, 2-1 Game 1 victory and stopping 27-of-29 shots to spearhead a Game 2 blowout.

Cooper said that going to seven games against Detroit might have been the best thing for Bishop’s playoff growth as it allowed him to experience a bevy of different situations in a short time frame.

“Ben probably went through a little bit of the nerves, especially the way Games 1 and 2 went when we had a sizable shot advantage in both games, especially Game 1, and he gives up probably one he wants back for the game-winner,” Cooper said. “…Ben’s been a really solid goalie for us for two years, actually much better than solid, he’s been outstanding for us. And there’s never been a doubt in our locker room that Ben was ever going to falter for us. When the stage got bigger and brighter, so did Ben. I think for Ben, that (Detroit) series probably needed to go seven because he had to go through so many emotions, so many different challenges he had from us being behind, from us being shutout, from us not scoring, to us scoring a bunch of goals, to us dominating games and him not facing that many shots. You just bottle all that up and by the time he got to Game 7, he was a rock star.

“He’s kind of carried that on since then.”

Bishop said it’s not only him that’s elevated his level of play but the entire Lightning team.

“It’s not just one player,” he said. “The guys have done a good job in front of me.”

Bishop said he’s felt comfortable in goal ever since those few jittery moments in Game 1 versus Detroit, and the key to calming the nerves is to treat each playoff game like any other.

“I’m just taking it game-by-game throughout the season, no matter what the magnitude is,” he said.

Games 3 and 4 of the Montreal series will be played on back-to-back days. Bishop has yet to start both ends of a back-to-back set this season, but Cooper said he has no hesitation putting Bishop in goal on consecutive nights.

“Ben’s played three-in-three in the American League,” Cooper said. “He’s done the old Friday night, Saturday night, Sunday afternoon and played all three, so this won’t be new to him.”

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