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Lightning embracing the moment, planning to "enjoy the ride"

Associate coach Rick Bowness isn't one to typically give big pre-game speeches.

But after Monday's practice, Bowness addressed the Lightning team. Bowness, 60, who has coached more than 2,000 games behind the bench, reminded the players that in 40 years in the NHL, this is only his third trip to the Stanley Cup Final.

"He said, 'You never know when you're going to get there, so have fun, make the most of it, and enjoy the ride," D Mark Barberio said." It struck a chord with me."

The Lightning, basking in the glow of Media Day Tuesday afternoon at Amalie Arena, seemed like a team that wasn't fazed by the big stage, more so embracing it.

"You've got to enjoy the moment," captain Steven Stamkos said. "We've said all along we believe in ourselves and want to take advantage of this opportunity. You just never know how many chances you're going to get.

"I want this so bad."

Coach Jon Cooper talked about how much his team has grown throughout these playoffs. He recalled how when the Lightning was down 3-2 in the first round to the Red Wings, he thought, "Wow, is this going to happen again?" But the look in his team's eyes said, "We've got this." …

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Goalie Ben Bishop grateful for rest before Stanley Cup final

The path to the Stanley Cup final is a grueling grind, no more so than for Lightning goalie Ben Bishop, who started 20 games in a span of 44 days to help Tampa Bay to their second-ever trip to the final best-of-seven series, which starts Wednesday night against Chicago.

That's one game every 2.20 days, as compared to Bishop's busy regular season, when he (with relief from backups like rookie Andrei Vasilevskiy) played 62 games in 184 days, which works out to one game every 2.96 days. So to have the weekend to rest after Friday night's clinching win over the Rangers, and two more days to prepare for Wednesday's opener, Bishop is grateful to catch his breath.

"It's been nice. That last series was pretty demanding, every other day for the first six games, back and forth," Bishop said. "Having a couple of days off is a little weird. I'm not used to it, but it's nice. I think everybody can sit back and kind of look back on what you've done so far, but realize there's some unfinished business. You really haven't accomplished anything yet." …

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Lightning hope depth on defense provides an edge

TAMPA -- Tampa and Chicago have gotten to the Stanley Cup final with strong defense, but the two teams have done so in different manners, with the Blackhawks leaning heavily on their best defensemen and the Lightning standing by their impressive depth.

Chicago defenseman Duncan Keith, who has an impressive 16 assists in the playoffs, is averaging 31:36 in ice time in the playoffs, easily the highest average of any player advancing beyond the opening round. By comparison, the Lightning -- rotating in seven defensemen for most of the postseason -- have no players averaging more than the 23:25 played by defenseman Victor Hedman.

"You watch him play and he skates pretty effortlessly, but you've got to think it's been taking a toll on his body," Lightning defenseman Matt Carle said. "He's not the biggest guy in the world. It's not like it's Chris Pronger playing 30 minutes a night where he's cruising around. He competes hard. ... As much as Anaheim did and every team that he's played against, I'm sure we're going to try to make him work as much as possible, try to tire him out as much as we can." …

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Cup fever early: Fans welcome Lightning home at 3:15 a.m.

TAMPA -- Even at 3:15 a.m., hours after the Lightning's Game 7 win over the New York Rangers, Stanley Cup fever was quickly spreading.

Hundreds of fans greeted the team at its early-morning arrival at the Jet Center at Tampa International Airport, cheering players and coaches as the Lightning head to the Stanley Cup finals for only the second time in team history.

Video: Lightning's Alex Killorn talks about fans at airport at 3:30 a.m. (Tyler Johnson cameo in honking truck). pic.twitter.com/CsKaXsiMi9

"It's great. They've shown us support all throughout the playoffs, regardless of whether we win or not," said center Alex Killorn (video here), who scored the first goal in the Lightning's 2-0 clinching win Friday night. "I think it's slowly starting to sink in that we're going to the Stanley Cup finals. It's a nice feeling. We're all just sitting back to enjoy it for a second because we know we're getting back to work pretty soon." …

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Lightning has 'quiet confidence' heading into Game 7

Lightning captain Steven Stamkos said he senses a "quiet confidence" among his teammates heading into the biggest game of the season.

DIRK SHADD | Times

Lightning captain Steven Stamkos said he senses a "quiet confidence" among his teammates heading into the biggest game of the season.

There's no sugar-coating the significance of tonight's Game 7 for the Lightning.

Win, and reach its first Stanley Cup Final since it's 2004 championship. Lose, and season is over.

But captain Steven Stamkos said he senses a "quiet confidence" among his teammates heading into the biggest game of the season.

"There's more excitement than nervous tension, which is a good thing," Stamkos said. "We realize the magnitude of it,  we realize what we've done that made us successful in the past, and we've got to do it tonight. There's no bigger stage, and I think guys are willing to embrace that."

While the Rangers are 15-3 in elimination games since 2012, and are 7-0 all-time in Game 7s at Madison Square Garden, the Lightning isn't intimidated, knowing it has won four of five games here this season. …

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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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