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Lightning ready to respond in Game 7

Victor Hedman said that Game 7 against Detroit was "huge" for this young team, realizing how it has to play to be successful with its back against the wall.

DIRK SHADD | Times

Victor Hedman said that Game 7 against Detroit was "huge" for this young team, realizing how it has to play to be successful with its back against the wall.

Much has been made about the reslience of the battle-tested Rangers, who are 15-3 in elimination games since 2012, and 7-0 in Game 7s at home.

"It seems like they always step up at the right moment and everyone is on their game when they need it the most," said D Anton Stralman, a former Ranger.

But as the Lightning enters Friday's Game 7 against the Rangers at Madison Square Garden, it enters with confidence having "been there" before, too, learning a lot from its Game 7 victory over Detroit in the first round.

"When you have success in them, we went to Game 7 and won, and right away, you just know you can do it," coach Jon Cooper said. "Knowing you're under the highest boarding pressure of situations when the season can potentially end, or you can go on and play for the Stanley Cup. Our guys have responded. We had success and found a way to win. I think that's what really pushed us in the Montreal series, and helped us in the Rangers series. We know we can do this. It's just a matter of have to do it again in a short couple weeks." …

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Stanley Cup Final to begin Wednesday

The Stanley Cup Final will begin Wednesday, June 3, the NHL announced today.

So if the Lightning were to win Game 7 against the Rangers Friday night and advance, it'd either open the Stanley Cup Final Wednesday in Anaheim, or at Amalie Arena against Chicago.

The Ducks and Blackhawks play in Game 7 Saturday in Anaheim. The Lightning would have home-ice advantage with Chicago, not with Anaheim.

The rest of the schedule is as follows:

Game 2: Saturday, June 6
Game 3: Monday, June 8
Game 4: Wednesday, June 10
Game 5: Saturday, June 13
Game 6: Monday, June 15
Game 7: Wedensday, June 17

One interesting note is that, if the Lightning hosts the Blackhawks, Game 2 would be Saturday, June 6, the same day Garth Brooks is scheduled to play two shows at Amalie Arena.

 

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Lightning players dealing with flu bug

Defenseman Braydon Coburn missed part of Game 5 because of a flu bug.

DIRK SHADD | Times

Defenseman Braydon Coburn missed part of Game 5 because of a flu bug.

Lightning coach Jon Cooper said the two days before Game 7 will be a much-welcomed break to get healthy.

And it looks like there's a good reason for that, as wing Alex Killorn confirmed today that several players are dealing with a flu-bug. Defenseman Braydon Coburn missed part of Game 5 because of it. Tyler Johnson and Ondrej Palat didn't participate in Tuesday's morning skate, but played.

"It's tough," Killorn said. "We had a few guys under the weather. Not that that's any excuse. Most of the guys have been ready for games. Today is going to be huge, not only for injured guys, but guys feeling kind of sick. We're going to use those kind of days to get healthy. Wer'e not going to use that as an excuse."

Coach Jon Cooper didn't make a big deal out of it, saying both teams likely have players who are injured or sick.

"Maybe after it's all said and done, more things will come out what happened in our room," Cooper said. "We're putting the best lineup we can possible."

 

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Cedric Paquette questionable, Braydon Coburn healthy for Game 6

Cedric Paquette held his right hand/arm as he left Sunday's first period after blocking a shot. He later returned but played only 5:43 in Game 5.

Getty Images

Cedric Paquette held his right hand/arm as he left Sunday's first period after blocking a shot. He later returned but played only 5:43 in Game 5.

Center Cedric Paquette is questionable for tonight's Game 6 of the Eastern Conference final, Lightning coach Jon Cooper said after today's morning skate at Amalie Arena.

Paquette held his right hand/arm as he left Sunday's first period after blocking a shot. He later returned but played only 5:43 in Game 5.

Paquette briefly participated during the optional morning skate but left the ice, apparently without Cooper noticing.

"I didn't even see it," Cooper said. "I didn't watch."

Paquette has one goal this postseason. If he can't play, Vladislav Namestnikov would be the most likely replacement at center. Namestnikov has one assist in his 11 playoff games.

Defenseman Braydon Coburn was a full participant in the morning skate and said he feels much better after the 24-hour stomach bug that limited him to 5:43 of ice time in Game 5.

"It wasn't pretty," Coburn said.

Despite the illness, Coburn stayed on the bench to watch Sunday's win instead of heading to the locker room.

"I wasn't doing any good in the dressing room," Coburn said. "If I needed to be out there for something, maybe I could have contributed."

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Lightning putting focus on defensive end

Ben Bishop has allowed five goals in back to back games for the first time since 2011.

DOUGLAS R. CLIFFORD | Times

Ben Bishop has allowed five goals in back to back games for the first time since 2011.

With two of the highest scoring teams in the league meeting up in this Eastern Conference Final, there was expected to be some offensive firepower.

But the fact the winning team has scored five or more goals in each of the last three games isn't exactly how the Lightning and Rangers drew this one up.

"Eventually it will probably calm down," coach Jon Cooper said." But I'm sure (coach Alain Vigneault) and I are probably losing a few follicles. But the fans out there are probably having one heck of a time watching the games.

"I'm pretty sure we didn't go into the lockeroom and say, 'Okay fellas, we're going to put a touchdown on the board tonight, let's just try and win this 7-6."

Vigneault said it's been an exciting series where "skillset is prime," with both teams fast, highly skilled.

But the Lightning, which racked up 39 shots in a Game 4 loss, is putting more of a focus on the other net. …

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Lightning needs more secondary scoring

Ryan Callahan, who racked up 24 goals in the regular season, hasn't scored a goal in the first 16 games of these playoffs.

DIRK SHADD | Times

Ryan Callahan, who racked up 24 goals in the regular season, hasn't scored a goal in the first 16 games of these playoffs.

Veteran wing Ryan Callahan, who racked up 24 goals in the regular season, hasn't scored a goal in the first 16 games of these playoffs.

But coach Jon Cooper bets that ends in Game 5.

"Probably tonight's the night he's going to score," Cooper said. "Because he does that on big stages."

Either way, the Lightning could use some more secondary scoring if it wants to advance to the Stanley Cup Final. While the Triplets (Tyler Johnson, Nikita Kucherov and Ondrej Palat) have carried the Lightning, tallying 25 of the 42 goals, and Steven Stamkos' line has heated up as of late, Tampa Bay doesn't have a goal from the bottom-six forwards since Game 2 against Montreal.

"Everybody's  not  going to score at the pace of Stamkos or Johnson or Kuch or those guys that are scoring," Cooper said. "But you need other guys to help carry the load."

There's no greater example than the Lightning's 2011 run to the Eastern Conference Final, when the likes of Sean Bergeheim and Dominic Moore came through with big goals. …

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Matt Carle could be available tonight

Matt Carle missed Game 4 after suffering an undisclosed injury in Game 3 in a collision with the Rangers' Derek Stepan midway through the first period.

AP photo

Matt Carle missed Game 4 after suffering an undisclosed injury in Game 3 in a collision with the Rangers' Derek Stepan midway through the first period.

Veteran defenseman Matt Carle was back on the ice Sunday for the morning skate, and there's a chance he returns for tonight's Game 5.

"I think he's going to be available," coach Jon Cooper said.

Carle missed Game 4 after suffering an undisclosed injury in Game 3 in a collision with the Rangers' Derek Stepan midway through the first period.

"I didn't see him at all," Carle said. "It was a blindside hit."

Carle said it's been tough to sit out most of the past two games.

"I've bit all my fingernails off watching the game," Carle said. "You get morem nervous watching the game than you do playing."

Carle has struggled at times during these playoffs, a team-high minus-6 with two points. If he returns, expect the Lightning to go with seven defensemen again as rookie D Nikita Nesterov has impressed. Nesterov has one goal and four assists, a plus-2 in 11 games. …

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Jon Cooper: Thought of benching Ben Bishop is 'asinine to me'

If Rangers coach Alain Vigneault looked at reporters as if they had three heads Thursday when they asked about benching star goalie Henrik Lundqvist, Lightning coach Jon Cooper went a step farther Saturday when the thought of a goalie change was brought up.

"I'll look at you like you have five heads," Cooper said before his team flew to New York for Sunday's Game 5 of the Eastern Conference final. "How's that? No change."

Cooper said he has plenty of confidence in goalie Ben Bishop, who's given up five goals in back-to-back games for the first time since March 2011. Bishop's defensemen took much of the blame for the Rangers' offensive success, and Cooper said Bishop has passed every test in the playoffs so far.

"I understand your question," Cooper said of a potential change at goalie. "For someone to sit here and say, are we changing (in) goal? That is asinine to me."

In injury news, Cooper said defenseman Matt Carle is improving after leaving Game 3 with an undisclosed injury. Carle didn't play Friday and is officially listed as day to day, but Cooper didn't sound particularly optimistic that he'd be ready to return for Sunday's game.

"I guess there's always a chance," Cooper said. …

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Steve Yzerman finalist for GM of the Year

Lightning general manager Steve Yzerman is one of three finalists for General Manager of the Year, the league announced Friday.

Yzerman, 50, joins the Rangers Glen Sather and the Ducks’ Bob Murray. Yzerman in his sixth year with Tampa Bay, was also a finalist in 2010-11, the last time the Lightning reached the Eastern Conference Final. This season, the Lightning set franchise record for wins (50) and points (108).

The award, voted on by the league’s general managers and some selected media members, will be announced in Las Vegas June 23.

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Lightning, Rangers looking for more defense in Game 4

"There's not a whole lot of times (when) you give up five goals you're going to win the game..." defenseman Victor Hedman said. "We have to make sure we can't get sucked into thinking that we can score six every night.

DIRK SHADD | Times

"There's not a whole lot of times (when) you give up five goals you're going to win the game..." defenseman Victor Hedman said. "We have to make sure we can't get sucked into thinking that we can score six every night.

For a team that enters Game 4 with a 2-1 series lead, the Lightning and has put up six goals in back-to-back games, the Lightning spent a lot of time Friday morning talking about one major negative - the five goals it allowed Wednesday.

"There's not a whole lot of times (when) you give up five goals you're going to win the game..." defenseman Victor Hedman said. "We have to make sure we can't get sucked into thinking that we can score six every night. We have to focus on our net and make sure we take care of that. We know our offensive skills. We know we have power up front that's going to score goals. We have to focus on our own net and make sure that we play well on that end."

Lightning coach Jon Cooper said neither he nor New York coach Alain Vigneault expects to put up that much offense, especially in the playoffs, when scoring is at a premium. But both teams had scoring success in the regular season; they were two of the three teams in the league to average at least three goals per game. …

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With Matt Carle out, Mark Barberio to make playoff debut

With defenseman Matt Carle (undisclosed) out, Mark Barberio (8) could be the sixth or seventh defenseman.

DIRK SHADD | Times

With defenseman Matt Carle (undisclosed) out, Mark Barberio (8) could be the sixth or seventh defenseman.

At the end of Friday's morning skate, associate Rick Bowness approached defenseman Mark Barberio to give him the news: he'll make his playoff debut tonight in Game 4.

With defenseman Matt Carle (undisclosed) out, Barberio could be the sixth or seventh defenseman.

"He asked me if I was ready to go," Barberio said. "(Heck) yeah!"

Barberio, 25, hadn't played since the regular season finale April 11 against Boston. And while he's had experience of going long stretches without games - he played in just 52 this season - watching the first few rounds of the playoffs from the press box wasn't easy.

"It's tough, you want to play for sure," Barberio said. "But I understand we have a really good team, a lot of good players, the team has been doing well, been successful. I'm getting a chance, I want to help the team. Will be a bit nervous cause I'm jumping right into the third round of the playoffs. But it'll be fun. I'm really excited." …

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Rangers' Lundqvist: "I have to be better"

By the end of the second round, the Lightning had arguably the best goalie in the world, Montreal's MVP finalist Carey Price, taking the blame for a conference semifinal series loss.

And now, Tampa Bay's relentless offensive attack has overwhelmed another one of the league's greats, Rangers goalie Henrik Lundqvist, who has now allowed six goals in back-to-back games for just the second time in his 10-year career.

Lundqvist, who has been in the Conn Smythe Trophy conversation, has been human against Tampa Bay, boasting a 4.75 goals against average and .840 save percentage in six games this season.

"It’s really challenging for me the way they move the puck," Lundqvist said after the Lightning's 6-5 overtime win in Game 3. "The way they find open ice in the slot, and scoring chances right in front. I just need to dig deep here to try to be more consistent with my game plan. Try to challenge the shooter then they pass and sometimes you stay back. As a team, if we can be a little bit better, but also I have to be better. Honestly, you’re not going to win if I give up six goals." …

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Nikita Kucherov shows resiliency with Game 3 winner against Rangers

Nikita Kucherov, right, celebrates his game-winning goal with defenseman Nikita Nesterov.

DIRK SHADD | Times

Nikita Kucherov, right, celebrates his game-winning goal with defenseman Nikita Nesterov.

Before Nikita Kucherov was the hero of Wednesday night's 6-5 overtime win over the Rangers, the 21-year-old wing blamed himself for Game 3 of the Eastern Conference final getting to overtime in the first place.

Kucherov said he was in good position but failed to properly defend Dan Boyle, who poked a rebound past Ben Bishop to tie the game at 5 with 1:56 left in regulation.

"It was my mistake," Kucherov said. "I didn't see the puck. I should have probably boxed him out, but I didn't. I've got to learn from it."

If nothing else, he atoned for it.

He had a prime scoring chance three minutes into overtime when he streaked down the right side and cut to the middle, with two defenders closing on him. Earlier in the game, Kucherov had a similar chance but tried to beat the defensemen instead of shooting the puck.

Coach Jon Cooper reminded Kucherov that he doesn't have to get close to the goal to score.

"You have a phenomenal shot," Cooper said. "You can score from there."

So instead of advancing, Kucherov let a shot fly - right past Rangers goalie Henrik Lundqvist.

"Just trying to make a shot," Kucherov said. "Any shot in overtime is a good shot." …

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Marty St. Louis not worried about fan reception tonight

Martin St. Louis, right, and goalie Henrik Lundqvist react after the Lightning's Tyler Johnson scored a shorthanded goal following a St. Louis turnover early in Game 2.

DIRK SHADD | Times

Martin St. Louis, right, and goalie Henrik Lundqvist react after the Lightning's Tyler Johnson scored a shorthanded goal following a St. Louis turnover early in Game 2.

Former Lightning captain Marty St. Louis said he doesn't know what kind of reaction he'll get from fans at Amalie Arena tonight when he comes out for Game 3 of the Eastern Conference final as a member of the Rangers.

And he's not worried about it, either.

"It's always special, you know, coming here, obviously with my time here," St. Louis said after Wednesday's morning skate. "But right now my focus is not so much my time here. It's really, how do we get past these guys? This building is going to be loud. They feed off those fans. We need a good start and to keep pushing."

St. Louis had two assists in Game 2 but still hasn't scored during this playoff run for New York. He was booed in November when he returned to Tampa, where he played 13 year before asking to be traded.

St. Louis had good things to say about Lightning center Tyler Johnson, a fellow undersized, overlooked forward who developed into an NHL star.

"You can tell he's got great abilities - his speed, his shot, his mind for the game," St. Louis said. "He's a driven kid. He's had a great year, and he's had a good playoffs. We've got to find a way to make it hard on him." 

 

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Steven Stamkos feeling comfortable at wing

Steven Stamkos has found some success since getting moved over to right wing during last series against Montreal, racking up three goals and four points in four games since.

DIRK SHADD | Times

Steven Stamkos has found some success since getting moved over to right wing during last series against Montreal, racking up three goals and four points in four games since.

Lightning captain Steven Stamkos has played center his entire life, and is one of the best in the league.

But Stamkos has found some success since getting moved over to right wing during last series against Montreal, racking up three goals and four points in four games since. Stamkos didn't attribute the scoring surge to the position switch, but said giving an opponent a different look can sometimes help.

"I think I'm pretty comfortable playing (wing)," Stamkos said. "I like to think I can play both positions. There's a little more board battle, a little more being smarter with the puck not trying to force things in the middle, sometimes the boards and the glass are your friend, especially in the d-zone, kind of learned that the hard way in Game 1."

Coach Jon Cooper said he likes Stamkos at both center and wing, but felt this move would help free him up and save his legs. …

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