TAMPA, Fla. (WFLA) — After taking game one 4-1 Tuesday night, the Lightning now look to take the 2-0 series lead over the Panthers on Thursday.
The Bolts had to win two straight to close out their first-round series with the Maple Leafs, and have now won three straight coming into game two of their second-round series with Florida. In that stretch, defense has been key, with the Lightning giving up no more than three goals in any one game, and just one goal in each of the last two.
“Defense is about commitment,” said Lightning Head Coach Jon Cooper. “When you’re playing ‘D’ you don’t have the puck, and there’s a lot of choices that have to be made. I don’t think I’m alone in this—when you play 82 games, the same commitment playing ‘D’ isn’t always there and it’s understandable. Guys are tired. [They’re] playing five in eight nights. But we have a recipe that’s worked for us these past few Springs and these guys have an ability when it gets tough—and now it’s time to, as I say, dig your heels in. And they do it, but it’s done in so many different ways. But it’s the play when they don’t have the puck that’s really kind of stabilized us these last couple games. But that’s all about commitment. And that’s what they’re showing.”
“We know how we have to play,” said Lightning forward and captain Steven Stamkos. “Obviously you look at Toronto and now Florida—two of the most dynamic offensive teams—we’re going to have to really buckle down and play well defensively to give ourselves a chance. I know everyone talks about the goals and stuff but really the last couple years it’s not like we’re scoring six, seven, eight goals a game. We have to rely on playing the right way. That’s sacrifice we’ve seen—guys blocking shots. Guys can still make plays but just being smart with the puck. When you’re playing teams of this caliber offensively, it’s just those little, tiny mistakes that can lead to offensive chances—and we’ve seen that. When we’ve gone awry for a couple minutes, that’s usually the case.”
With the first two games of this series in Sunrise, Florida, that would be a significant feat for the Lightning to take both road games to open the series, before they head back to Tampa for games three and four on Sunday and Monday.
“This group has obviously had a lot of experience the past couple years in knowing what it takes to win at this time of the year and it’s not always pretty but it’s about wins,” Stamkos said. “That’s what this group, I think, understands. In those key situations and those key games—especially the last couple. We’ve seen that and obviously that starts with our goalie in (Andrei Vasilevskiy) but he’d be the first one to say too, he’s getting a lot of help from guys sacrificing right now and getting in lanes and blocking shots and back-checking and the things you need to do that sometimes go under the radar.”
Game one may not have had as many scuffles as expected, based on how their first-round series went last season, but Cooper expects that to change as we move forward with each game.
“I expect—as every series goes—the deeper they go, the more the intensity builds,” Cooper said.
On the injury front for the Lightning, Brayden Point will miss his second-straight game with the lower-body injury he suffered in game seven against Toronto. Erik Cernak, who left Tuesday’s game in the second period after blocking a shot, is expected to play.
Puck drop for game two is scheduled for 7:00 p.m.