TAMPA — Let's start by saying that the Lightning has been the better team by far in its playoff series with the New Jersey Devils.
You'd rather be down 0-2 or tied 1-1?
Yes, the Lightning has displayed its varied and deep offense in going up 2-0. It has struck on the power play and prevailed on the penalty kill. When it needed Andrei Vasilevskiy to shut the door, he did, though having to make 41 saves in Saturday's 5-3 win in Game 2 was a bit much.
But it's killer-instinct time as the series shifts to Jersey.
This is where a Stanley Cup contender puts its skate on the other guy's throat.
Game 3 would be a good place to start.
"At some point in the playoffs, you have to win on the road," Lightning coach Jon Cooper said.
It does come in handy.
Toward that end, act like you're desperate.
Consider those first two games, when you were back on your heels and the Devils were trying to run you out of the building, when your defense, suspect all season, was truly reeling. Jersey nearly closed to within 5-4 late in Game 2.
Playoff series can turn on a dime.
If you're the Devils, that is what Game 3 is all about. You go all in or you're done.
Lightning players have the tougher job Monday night. They have to convince themselves there's no tomorrow, though there is.
How do you make desperation out of 2-0?
That's the trick.
If it helps, use the possible losses of Ryan Callahan and Dan Girardi.
Or invoke your fans' psyche. The Lightning faithful are a nervous bunch. The Amalie Arena went silent Saturday as the Devils made the game tighter.
They fear the worst. The Lightning's play after the All-Star break fed into that.
If I were Cooper, I'd have my team watching tape of the last 10 minutes of Game 2, when the Devils were all over the Lightning. It can happen. It can happen Monday night. This can become a series just like that.
Put them away. Do it Monday night.
You really want to be outshot 44-25 again?
You really want to let them take this to you?
The Lightning jumped on New Jersey in the first two games. It didn't let the Devils gulp an ounce of air.
It needs to do that again. Leave no doubt.
The best offense in the league has the firepower, even with Steven Stamkos not quite there yet. Nikita Kucherov is back on his game, and everyone else is stepping up, from Brayden Point to Yanni Gourde to Alex Killorn to Tyler Johnson to Ryan McDonagh. Time for everyone else to join in or else.
It's time to put the hammer down. No time to muck around Monday night. Go into their house and say this series is over. It's about the road to the Cup, and the shorter the road, the better in the early rounds.
On the way to winning it all in 2004, the Lightning needed just nine games in the first two rounds. That's not about to happen again, especially by the looks of the Bruins against Toronto. New Jersey is right where the Lightning wants it.
Forget the Devils making a statement.
Make your own Monday night. Lock this series down.
Contact Martin Fennelly at [email protected] or (813) 731-8029