MONTREAL — So, it's come down to this for the Lightning:
It is relying on karma to help it beat the Canadiens in a must-win Game 4 of the Eastern Conference quarterfinal tonight at the Bell Centre.
That is not as desperate as it sounds.
The way coach Jon Cooper sees it, though his team is one loss from elimination, Tampa Bay played pretty well in Game 3 despite the 3-2 loss.
And considering the controversy about Ryan Callahan's disallowed goal that was piled on top of everything else the team has gone through this season, "I truly believe there is not much more that can go against us," Cooper said.
"At some point, karma is going to come around," he added. "We just need it for one night. You just have to win one and everyone is back on a plane (to Tampa for Game 5) and who knows what happens after that?"
The odds are heavily stacked against the Lightning.
Only three times in NHL history have teams come back from 3-0 deficits to win a seven-game series: The 1942 Maple Leafs over the Red Wings in the Stanley Cup final, the 1975 Islanders over the Penguins in a league quarterfinal and the 2010 Flyers over the Bruins in the East semifinals.
Lightning defenseman Matt Carle, who played on that Philadelphia team, said his Tampa Bay teammates began asking him about it immediately after Game 3.
Granted, the circumstances were a bit different, as the Flyers played Game 4 at home, but the mind-set is the same.
"You think about the task at hand, not trying to win four straight," Carle said. "You lose three and it seems like the world is collapsing a little bit. To win four straight seems pretty tough, but you win one and you get some momentum going."
"We just have to win one game," captain Steven Stamkos said. "Our backs are against the wall, so I'm pretty sure you're going to see a good effort from us. That's our motto right now: win one, go back home and see what happens."
What has happened for the Lightning is it has incrementally gotten better as the series has progressed. Despite losing Game 3, the second and third periods were the best the team has played.
The neutral zone blockade Montreal had enforced through the series' first seven periods cracked a bit. The Lightning actually carried the play at times, kept better control of the puck and created scoring chances that weren't there previously.
That is why Cooper said, "I truly believe we've worked our way out of this."
And why Carle said, "I don't think we're feeling as bad as people probably think."
Carle knows what can be accomplished. The defenseman had four assists, including on the winning goal, in the Flyers' 5-4 over triumph over the Bruins in Game 4 of the 2010 series. And Philadelphia, in fact, got all the way to the Stanley Cup final before losing to the Blackhawks.
But Tampa Bay players with AHL Syracuse last season also have some experience on which to draw, having forced last season's seven-game Calder Cup final to six games after losing the first three.
"The way we approached it last year was all we can do is win one," defenseman Mark Barberio said. "Focus on one game, one period, one shift. It's a snowball effect."
"Nobody is hanging their head, nobody is feeling sorry for themselves and saying, 'Why me?' " Cooper said, and added, "This isn't a seven-game series. This is a one-game series. You have to win one game to get to the second."
And then who knows how far karma can take you?
Damian Cristodero can be reached at [email protected]