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Jones: Don't mess around, Lightning, finish off the Wings

DETROIT — Now end it.

Finish this series. Finish these Red Wings. Knock 'em out and move on to the next round.

It won't be easy, of course. Besides, the Lightning doesn't know how to do easy. Not this season.

Did you see Tuesday night's heart-stopping, hold-your-breath and watch-between-your fingers Game 4 victory in Detroit?

Easy? Not a chance. Tampa Bay had the game won, gave it back and won it again. Heck, it should count for two victories.

But, alas, it only counts as one and, because of it, Tampa Bay comes back home with a 3-1 series lead. The Lightning won thanks to Ondrej Palat's power-play goal with 2:59 left on an assist from Jonathan Drouin.

Yeah, Drouin. Talk about things never being easy. That guy isn't even supposed to be here, right? He is supposed to be traded by now. Or rotting at home. He is supposed to be nowhere.

On Tuesday, he was everywhere.

So was the previously-invisible power play, which had three goals, and the always visible Nikita Kucherov, who had the first two goals.

Tampa Bay has taken three of the first four games of this series. It deserves to be up 3-1. It has been the better team. It is the better team. But, still, it hasn't been easy. Every game has been a struggle. Each victory has been hard.

The series is only four games old and it feels like it has been going on for a month.

So what's next? What happens now?

Now end it.

Game 5 is Thursday night at Amalie Arena. It should be the last game of the series. For the Lightning, it better be. It needs to be.

"We have a chance to put this away at home," Lightning center Tyler Johnson said. "That's why what we will try to do."

Forget trying. Just do it. Yeah, sure, the fourth win is always the toughest on to win in a series. That's the cliché, right? You'll hear it a thousand times in the next 24 hours.

"The next game," defenseman Braydon Coburn said in a rocking Lightning locker room, "is the biggest game."

You'll also hear how the Red Wings will be desperate. How their season is on the line. How no dog is more dangerous than a cornered wounded dog or some such nonsense.

To heck with all that.

The Lightning needs to come out Thursday night and go straight to its finishing move. It needs to pull on its skates, tighten up its laces and put those skates squarely on Detroit's throat. End it.

The last thing the Lightning needs is to get back on a plane back to Detroit. A potential Game 6 this weekend could lead to a potential anything-can-happen Game 7 next week and the Lightning sure doesn't want any part of that.

"It's not that we're paranoid about coming back to Detroit," Lightning coach Jon Cooper said. "It's just rest, travel, jumping on a plane anymore, hotel rooms. That's the part that continues to wear on you."

Cooper is right. It isn't just about this series. Remember last year?

Tampa Bay fooled around and ended up playing more games than it needed to because it couldn't put teams away. It couldn't close out series.

It let Detroit hang around for seven games. It allowed Montreal to climb out of a 3-0 hole and force six games. It blew crucial games at home in the Eastern Conference final against the Rangers and needed Ben Bishop to pitch shutouts in Games 5 and 7 at New York just to survive.

By the time the Lightning got to the Stanley Cup final, its tank was empty. Maybe that's why it lost three in a row for the first time all season. It simply ran out of gas.

See, that's why Tuesday night's victory was so important, although far from easy. Tampa Bay was up 2-0 midway through Game 4. Kucherov was continuing his excellent Steven Stamkos imitation, scoring his fourth and fifth goals of the series. Both even came on a power play that suddenly was resurgent after a hard hour practice Monday.

"Felt like five hours," Johnson said.

But the Red Wings roared back with two goals late in the second period, including the tying one with only 8.2 seconds left.

"Obviously, you don't want to give up a goal in the last 10 seconds, but we did," Bishop said. "The guys regrouped."

Still, it felt like a haymaker. It felt like the goal that would swing the game. And, perhaps, the series.

There was one little detail left: the third period.

"We knew if we went out and won the third period, we would win the game," Coburn said. "That was our objective."

Teams playing in front of their ravenous home crowds like the Red Wings were Tuesday night don't fight back from 2-0 deficits only to lose. Except this team did.

Give the Lightning credit. It found a way. Maybe one thing last year's playoffs did help was getting the Lightning through tough times like Tuesday night.

"There is no question that has helped us," Cooper said.

Instead of being tied 2-2, the Lightning comes back home up 3-1. And it has a chance to close this thing out Thursday night.

Only one thing left to do:

Close it out. Finish the Wings.

End this series.

Jones: Don't mess around, Lightning, finish off the Wings 04/19/16 [Last modified: Wednesday, April 20, 2016 10:28am]
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