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Lightning hope road playoff success continues on Long Island

Tampa Bay's .833 road winning percentage is the best of any team in the 2021 playoffs

by Bryan Burns @BBurnsNHL /

The Stanley Cup Semifinal between Tampa Bay and the New York Islanders relocates to Long Island for Games 3 and 4 at the Nassau Coliseum, the Lightning and Islanders tied 1-1 in the best-of-seven after splitting a pair of games at AMALIE Arena to start the series.

And if history from this postseason holds true, the Lightning have the Isles right where they want them.

Home-ice advantage hasn't been much of an advantage for the Bolts so far. Inexplicably, Tampa Bay has lost the home opener in each of its three series so far but rebounded to win the second game. It's on the road, however, where the Lightning have done the bulk of their damage.

The Bolts are 5-1 away from home this postseason. They won the opening two games in Sunrise at the BB&T Center to start the First Round against Florida and take control of that series. They won the opening two games in Raleigh at PNC Arena to start the Second Round versus Carolina to take control of that series and would go on to win all three games in Raleigh to end the series in five games.

Tampa Bay's .833 road win percentage in the 2021 Playoffs is the best in the National Hockey League.

The Lightning's road domination is not just a recent trend either. Since the franchise became a franchise in 1992, the Bolts are 52-32 all-time away from home in the playoffs, their .619 win percentage best in the NHL over that stretch by a considerable margin (Vancouver is second at .529).

So why are the Lightning so comfortable away from the friendly confines of their home rink? Is it just a coincidence? Or is there something to their road-warrior mentality?

Head coach Jon Cooper can only speak to his time coaching Tampa Bay, but he said it takes a mature team to win on the road, and the Lightning, especially of late with the same core group going through multiple deep playoff runs, certainly have the experience to know what it takes to win on the road.

"In a weird way, playing last year in the playoffs on the road, even though there weren't fans there, it probably helped us in a way," Cooper said during the off day between Games 2 and 3. "But, you need maturity to play on the road. I said this and used this last night about managing your emotions because whether you're at home or on the road, you have to take the crowd out of it and focus on your game. These last two playoff runs, we've done a really good job at that."

One way to take a crowd out of the game is to not let the home team score. This postseason, the Lightning are allowing just 1.83 goals per game in road contests. In the three Second Round road games against Carolina, they surrendered just two goals total in Raleigh to keep the boisterous Caniacs from becoming a factor in the series.

Conversely, at home, the Lightning are allowing 2.71 goals per game, almost a full goal more each time out.

"I don't know if there's something that we do differently," Yanni Gourde said. "I think we try to bring the same game that we do at home that we do on the road. Maybe we defend a little better, honestly, I don't know…As a group, we approach the game the same way. We want to have a good start and we want to keep going and play hard and compete and bring our energy level as high as it can. Just go out there and compete, that's the biggest thing. That's what we've been doing this postseason on the road."

The Lightning know how to quiet an opposing crowd too by scoring important goals at opportune times. In their five road wins, the Bolts have netted the opening goal in all five contests. They've trailed in those five games just a combined 17:18, all of that coming in Game 1 of the playoff opener at Florida when they rallied twice from a goal down to prevail.

Tampa Bay's road recipe seems simple: Score the first goal, clamp down defensively and have a quick answer anytime the home team breaks through.

"I don't mind playing on the road. It's fun when you score a goal and the whole rink is quiet," said Ondrej Palat, who knows a thing or two about quieting home crowds in the playoffs. He's scored more postseason road goals (18) than any other player in Lightning franchise history.

"I think we've been great on the road so far, so hopefully we can do the same thing against the Islanders."

Which brings us to the Nassau Coliseum, which is notoriously one of the loudest rinks in the NHL and will no doubt be super juiced hosting the Stanley Cup Semifinal in the last season the Islanders will play there.

It's one of the smallest rinks in the League with a maximum capacity of 13,917 - for their last game at the Coliseum, Game 6 in the Second Round versus the Bruins, the Islanders hosted 12,00 fans -- but it's compactness makes it feel almost claustrophobic the way the fans are on top of you, which can be pretty intimidating for a visiting team.

The Coliseum is also a rink Cooper knows quite well.

The Lightning head coach went to college across the street at Hofstra University and was a member of the Flying Dutchmen lacrosse team. He remembers sitting in the upper deck for games at the Coliseum in those days, cheering for friends of his back home in Canada playing for the Islanders, and the passion the fans had back then for their team.

"It was just a great atmosphere, and to be able to come back, I've come back and visited Hofstra since, I've spoken to the lacrosse team, that little time that they moved from Nassau was kind of a sad time because we liked going back there," Cooper said. "And it's just, they have passionate fans, and you have to love that about being in the National Hockey League and being in different buildings where fans are so passionate. I know how it is because I was there firsthand. I saw how they were when they came to our lacrosse games. It's a cool environment to be in, looking forward to it, but a lot of fond memories of being on the Island."

Tampa Bay's road playoff domination extends to the Coliseum too. The Lightning have never lost there in the playoffs. In fact, they've never given up a goal there. In the two playoff contests the Bolts played in the Coliseum during a 2004 Eastern Conference Quarterfinal series, Tampa Bay won both 3-0.

The Lightning have never lost a road playoff game to the Islanders in New York either. They won both road games in a 2016 Second Round series against the Islanders at Barclays Center in Brooklyn, each win coming in overtime. The Bolts are 6-1 all-time against the Islanders on the road in the playoffs, the lone loss coming in Game 3 last season in the Edmonton bubble in a Rogers Place arena void of any fans.

The Lightning are hoping Cooper's intimate knowledge of the Coliseum combined with their proven effective road play and historical success will be enough to help them take control of the series these next two games on Long Island.

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