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Lightning stress poise under pressure

by Lonnie Herman

TAMPA -- Immediately after a 5-4 overtime loss to the Montreal Canadiens in Game 1 of an Eastern Conference First Round series, Tampa Bay Lightning coach Jon Cooper said he thought his team played well.

On reflection, and after viewing the film, he changed his mind.

"I just think we could have had a little bit better poise under pressure in some instances," Cooper said. "I don't think our defense was moving it fast enough and I think our forwards were not helping out our defense. Our forwards have to find a way to get back a little harder and fight their way back so we can start going up ice. We played right into Montreal's game plan."

That is a game plan as basic as it gets: Forecheck, forecheck aggressively, and make things happen.

"I don't think we handled the forecheck well as a team," Cooper said. "We have to be better as a team. When we don't have the puck it's five guys playing defense, and when we have the puck it's five guys playing offense, and that's the way we look at things. We just didn't handle it (the forecheck) well as a group."

Does that translate into a case of first-game nerves? Keep in mind the Lightning had eight rookies on the ice for their Stanley Cup Playoffs opener.

"At the beginning, I was a little bit nervous," Lightning rookie forward Cedric Paquette said. "I think all of us were a little bit nervous."

Fifth-year defenseman defenseman Victor Hedman said, "We have to calm down a little bit. Make the plays we've been doing all year. We worked hard, but execution wasn't there. Our poise under pressure wasn't really there, but at the same time, Montreal forced it very hard and made it tough to make plays."

Lightning captain Steven Stamkos agreed.

"It takes a while to adjust," Stamkos said. "You have to remember there is a lot of nerves and guys are anxious to get out there. You still have to make the plays you made in the first 82 games of the year. You can't be so nervous that you make a mistake and give them the puck right back. We have to be more composed with it. That's the word we've used the last couple of days.

"We didn't play our game. We turned pucks over. We didn't play the way we were successful throughout the year. I don't know if you want to chalk it up to a lot of guys getting nerves out of the way, playing their first playoff game, but we know what to expect now."

What they should expect in Game 2 on Friday (7 p.m. ET; CNBC, CBC, RDS, FS-F) is more of the same, and whether Tampa Bay can find their composure and maintain it in the face of Montreal pressure will make all the difference.

"The forecheck worked really well," Montreal defenseman Josh Gorges said. "I think we're going to need that even more so tonight. Players are too good nowadays, I think if we only send a one-man forecheck they will come out easy every time. You got to play hard and you got to be in their face. Take away their time and space and force them to make tough plays, and force them to keep pucks along the boards. Hopefully, with enough pressure, we can force some turnovers."

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