TAMPA -- The third period of a game has been like unwrapping a big Christmas present of late for the Tampa Bay Lightning.
In their previous three contests, the Lightning have used the final period to propel themselves to three consecutive wins. They produced three unanswered goals to break a scoreless tie against the Detroit Red Wings on Dec. 15. Tampa Bay scored two goals in the final three minutes, including one with four seconds left in regulation before winning in a shootout two days later against the New York Islanders.
Two days later against the Nashville Predators, the Lightning proved they could take a lead into the third and still control the final 20 minutes in a 4-2 win against the Nashville Predators.
Success in the final period is no accident, Tampa Bay coach John Cooper said.
"We've talked about that," Cooper said. "Get the lead, extend the lead, protect the lead, kind of deal. You have to be able to do it during games. You've got to give yourself a chance to win the game when you get to the third, and we've been doing that."
Cooper explained the locker-room focus of late before coming out for the third period.
"'OK, this game is in the third period. This is it. Next time we come in here the game is over," he said. "So we get the choice: When we walk in here, are we winning this game? When we leave the locker room, that's the mentality we have. It is kind of a mindset."
Tom Pyatt returns to the Tampa Bay lineup Saturday after missing 32 games with a broken collarbone, sustained 14 minutes into his first action of the season during the third game in Buffalo.
"This is the longest stretch that I've been out with an injury, including juniors," Pyatt said. "Thirty-something games. It was a long stretch but I'm glad it's done with and I'm just happy to be playing again."
Cooper is also happy Pyatt is back in playing shape.
"He's a versatile player," Cooper said. "He can play in the middle since [Steven] Stamkos has gone down, so that gives us another option there. He can jump into the power play and he can jump into the penalty kill; he can do it all. He's got some speed out there so that will help with our attack."
The Carolina Hurricanes, who lost Friday night at home 4-2 to the Washington Capitals and arrived early Saturday morning, took the morning off.
Here are the projected lineups:
Jeff Skinner – Eric Staal – Tuomo Ruutu
Nathan Gerbe – Jordan Staal – Alexander Semin
Jiri Tlusty – Riley Nash – Patrick Dwyer
Drayson Bowman – Manny Malhotra – Radek Dvorak
Andrej Sekera – Justin Faulk
Ron Hainsey – Brett Bellemore
Jay Harrison – Tim Gleason
Scratched: Mike Komisarek, Ryan Murphy, Kevin Westgarth
Teddy Purcell – Valtteri Filppula – Alex Killorn
Martin St. Louis – Tyler Johnson – Ondrej Palat
Nikita Kucherov – Nate Thompson – J.T. Brown
Richard Panik – Tom Pyatt
Sami Salo – Victor Hedman
Matthew Carle – Radko Gudas
Eric Brewer – Andrej Sustr
Scratched: Mark Barberio, B.J. Crombeen, Pierre-Cedric Labrie
Injured: Ryan Malone (lower body), Keith Aulie (broken hand), Steven Stamkos (broken right tibia)