TAMPA – The Tampa Bay Lightning had the best home record in the NHL during the regular season, but they were reminded again Thursday that the Stanley Cup Playoffs are different.
The Lightning, who were 32-8-1 at Amalie Arena this season, are 3-5 at home during the past two postseasons and have displayed some lackluster efforts in front of their fans in playoff games.
After a last-second 2-1 win in Game 3 of the Eastern Conference Second Round against the Montreal Canadiens on Wednesday, members of the Lightning spoke of playing a full 60 minutes in Game 4 on Thursday and matching the desperation level of their opponents despite leading 3-0 in the best-of-7 series.
Instead, Tampa Bay started sluggish and gave up two goals in the first 8:43. By the 10-minute mark of the second period, the Lightning were down 5-0 on the way to a 6-2 loss and thinking about Game 5 at Bell Centre on Saturday (7 p.m. ET; NBCSN, CBC, TVA Sports).
“We didn’t play well,” center Steven Stamkos said. “You can’t fall behind the way we did and expect to win. We knew coming in that this wasn’t going to be an easy game, and they showed why with the way they played and their effort.”
It wasn’t the first time the Lightning’s effort at home was lacking during the playoffs.
In the Eastern Conference First Round against the Detroit Red Wings, the Lightning came into Game 5 with plenty of momentum after rallying to win Game 4 on the road in overtime only to return home to lose 4-0.
Tampa Bay was outshot and outworked during 5-on-5 play in Game 7 against Detroit and Game 3 against Montreal but was saved by goalie Ben Bishop and made just enough plays to squeeze out wins.
But Bishop wasn’t able to bail out his teammates Thursday.
“It’s been two tough games at home for us,” Lightning coach Jon Cooper said. “We were fortunate to pull out [the Wednesday] game, but Montreal dictated a lot of the play. But [Thursday], when they got their opportunities they scored and that probably hasn’t happened to them against us so far.”
Goalie - TBL
GAA: 1.86 | SVP: .930
Cooper's job now is to get his team to refocus and try to continue its success on the road, where the Lightning are 4-1 during this year's playoffs and hold a 16-10 scoring advantage.
He will also need to figure out a way to get Stamkos going again. The Lightning captain ended an 11-game goal-scoring drought in Game 2 on Sunday but was held without a shot in Games 3 and 4.
Most important, Cooper needs to remind his players that despite their struggles at home, they are still one win away from the Eastern Conference Final.
“After four games would you take a 3-1 lead? Of course we will,” Cooper said. “I don’t think anyone thought this series would be a sweep or that we’d take two in Montreal. So I like where we’re sitting after four games. We need to embrace this experience.
"It’s fun being part of this and playing hockey in May. We have a chance to get to the conference finals. All year long this group has bounced back well from the loss.”