It's do or die for Lightning tonight in Game 4 against Montreal
The Lightning goes into Game 4 of the Eastern Conference quarterfinal tonight against the Canadiens at the Bell Centre, actually feeling pretty good about where the team's game is headed.
"The guys are learning. The guys are finding what playoff hockey is all about and we're getting better," coach Jon Cooper said. "But we're running out of time."
Down three games to none, Tampa Bay actually has no time because a loss will end its season. Win and Game 5 is Thursday in Tampa.
The Lightning did not like at all the way it played in the series' first two games at the Tampa Bay Times Forum, and even in the first period Sunday in Montreal. It was weak on the blue line, had trouble getting through the Canadiens' neutral zone defense and mounted little sustained pressure in the offensive zone.
Part of that is the Canadiens. As Cooper said, "Montreal is doing a a hell of a job against us. Tip your hat to them a little bit."
But despite the 3-2 loss in Game 3, the Lightning had the better of the play in the second and third periods.
"We found our legs," Cooper said. "We made some adjustments that helped our team a little bit. We're seeing some success. They're seeing their work pay off. I think it will just carry on to the opening puck drop tonight."
And perhaps longer as regardless of what happens tonight, the playoff experience is going to be a great help going forward for what is a relatively young team that has had 11 players so far make their Stanley Cup playoff debuts.
"Just look at Game 3," Cooper said. "We played in an extremely hostile, tough environment and I thought we played our best game."
"In the playoffs, everything is magnified," Cooper added. "Your emotions are running so much higher, it makes it a little bit of a different game. You have to be in those situations to understand how to deal with them. Our guys are learning that. You have to go through it, and that's what they're doing now."
Other stuff from the morning skate: Injured goaltender Ben Bishop took shots for the first time since his April 8 elbow injury. Cooper said it was "encouraging," but made it sound as if the series would have to get to Game 6 before Bishop would play, though he did not entirely rule out Game 5. "But we have to get through Game 4." ...Bishop said it has been "extremely" frustrating not being able to play. "Can't really put it into works. It's been real tough to have to watch." ... Defenseman Mark Barberio said the Lightning blue liners have been told to be more careful when playing flipped-in pucks. Barberio tried to play one of those in Game 3, did not do so cleanly and Montreal's Rene Bourque took the puck away. "Just push it away and be more patient," Barberio said. "If there's a guy omn you just swat it downward." ... Barberio hosted teammates Radko Gudas and Mike Kostka at his aunt and uncle's place in Laval. Barberio's grandmother made the lasgana. "The food just keeps coming," Kostka said. To work off some of it, the three played street hockey with some local kids. "A little after-supper digestion," Barberio said. "The kids had a good time and we had a good time, too." ... In one of the more ridiculous media moments of the series, Cooper was criticized by some in the Canadian media for butting in on Steven Stamkos' media scrum and, using a water bottle as a faux microphone, acting like a reporter. Some called it awkward or weird. But as Cooper said on Tuesday, "That's probably the fourth time I;ve done that this year. If you can't put a little humor in your life, where are we? We're humans, and our group has had fun." ... Cooper on Cedric Paquette: "I think he's been exceptional for us. You can't teach what that kid has. He's determined. he's passionate. I'm fairly certain that kid will be in the league for a while."