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Lightning hope adjustments pay off again in Game 2

by Corey Long

TAMPA -- The Tampa Bay Lightning are playing catch-up after the first game of a series for the third time in the 2015 Stanley Cup Playoffs.

Each of the Lightning's four series-openers has been decided by one goal. They've lost three, including Game 1 of the Final against the Chicago Blackhawks, 2-1 on Wednesday. Game 2 will be at Amalie Arena on Saturday (7:15 p.m. ET; NBC, CBC, TVA Sports).

Lightning coach Jon Cooper said he feels the first game of a best-of-7 series can be a learning process.

"Game 1 is definitely a feeling-out period, especially in this series when you haven't played these teams very often," Cooper said Friday. "Especially the [New York] Rangers [in the Eastern Conference Final], we played them in December. We hadn't seen too much of them. I think some of the other games; we've lost what now, three out of the four Game 1s. So maybe we've got a little bit more panic since we were down in Game 1. I don't know, there's maybe some more focus in Game 2."

It appears the Lightning figure things out quickly by the time Game 2 rolls around. Tampa Bay is 3-0 in Game 2 this spring, outscoring its opponents 17-5.

"We've taken things that we've done well in that previous game and things [we] need to correct and applied them in the next game," Lightning forward Ryan Callahan said. "It's very hard to carry momentum from game to game in the playoffs."

The on-ice adjustments the Lightning have made between games have led to goals and blowout wins, but the mental adjustments might be just as important. Cooper places an emphasis on moving forward, whether it's after a win or a loss. He doesn't want his players to think too hard about the previous game, regardless of the result.

That strategy has helped Tampa Bay get past some disappointing losses. The Lightning outshot the Detroit Red Wings 46-14 in Game 1 of the Eastern Conference First Round but lost 3-2. A loss like that could be frustrating for a young team, but veteran forward Brenden Morrow said one of the benefits of youth can be a short memory.

"Yeah, I mean I can give my kid Froot Loops and an hour later he'll tell me he hasn't had any yet and he wants some Froot Loops," Morrow said. "So yeah, that memory is a good thing when you can kind of let that thing roll off your back a little bit. And we're hoping that's the case for us, and it has been in the past."

The Lightning have lost consecutive games once during the postseason; the Montreal Canadiens won Games 4 and 5 of their second-round series. Lightning captain Steven Stamkos said he refuses to think of Game 2 as being a must-win situation because he wants to approach every game in a similar way.

"It's not a must-win game but you can approach it like that, those are two different things," Stamkos said. "It's not a must-win until you've lost three games in the series. But at this time of the year we approach every game like we want to win. So that doesn't change."

Two players who have excelled in Game 2 this postseason are forwards Tyler Johnson and Nikita Kucherov. Johnson has five goals and two assists in Game 2; Kucherov has two goals and four assists.

Johnson has not scored since Game 3 of the Eastern Conference Final and has five shots on goal in the past five games. Cooper said he isn't worried about Johnson's lack of goals and that the "Triplets" line of Johnson, Kucherov and Ondrej Palat remains strong.

"Guys go through the roller-coaster ride," Cooper said. "I don't know anybody that can score at a pace that [Tyler] was going on. Look at his line, though. He may not have scored, but his line scored. He's picking up assists, he's picking up points. He's such a huge part of our team. There's not an ounce of worry about the fact that he's not scoring."

Callahan said it's natural for every player to put additional pressure on himself to score at this stage of the playoffs.

"You always put pressure on yourself to contribute and put points up and help on the score sheet," Callahan said. "And it's something we're always trying to improve on and will need to during this series."

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