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Lightning faces good and bad of bye week

Tampa Bay Lightning center Brian Boyle (11) celebrates his goal tying the game 3 to 3 during third period action of the season opener at the Amalie Arena in Tampa Thursday evening (10/13/16).

DIRK SHADD | Times

Tampa Bay Lightning center Brian Boyle (11) celebrates his goal tying the game 3 to 3 during third period action of the season opener at the Amalie Arena in Tampa Thursday evening (10/13/16).

TAMPA — Lightning defensemen Victor Hedman and Braydon Coburn plan to take advantage of this week's five-day bye by taking their better halves on vacation.

Others are preferring a stay­cation.

"I'll be chasing my kid around," center Brian Boyle said.

Each team this season gets a five-day bye, instituted as part of the league's negotiations to get the Players Association to sign off on changing the All-Star Game format to a 3-on-3 divisional tournament. Rest, mentally and physically, are welcomed benefits. The Lightning doesn't practice again until Friday.

But the break couldn't come at a worse time for the Lightning (25-24-7). Tampa Bay, which is fighting for its playoff life, has been playing some of its best hockey, winning three of its past four. Teams it's chasing will gain points while it rests. And the bye weeks haven't been kind to teams, which have typically struggled coming out of them.

The eight teams that have completed their bye were a combined 15-22-3 in their first five games after it. The best record was 3-2. The defending Stanley Cup champion Penguins dropped three of their first four. The Rangers and Islanders lost their first three.

That kind of skid could be a crushing blow to the Lightning, which resumes play on the road Saturday in Dallas, the first game of a back-to-back that ends Sunday in Colorado.

"We have to be pretty mature about this, how we handle this rest time," Boyle said. "Be smart about it. We have to stay in shape, make sure we're ready to go, because every point is paramount for us right now."

You can understand why players embrace the time off. The schedule has been brutal this season, condensed due to September's World Cup of Hockey. Many believe that has led to the rash of injuries around the league, the Lightning among the hardest hit. Tampa Bay hopes center Tyler Johnson, who missed the past two games with a lower-body injury, could be back soon after the bye.

And few teams have played more games the past three years than Tampa Bay, which is coming off back-to-back playoff runs to the Stanley Cup final and Eastern Conference final, respectively. A league-most 12 Lightning players participated in the World Cup. "It's been a long couple years," Hedman said. "I don't mind the (bye)."

But there's also an argument that these five days would serve teams better by being spread out, helping limit the amount of back-to-back games.

Coach Jon Cooper said that when the Lightning was in Arizona on a road trip last month, he asked Coyotes coach Dave Tippett for the break's pitfalls. The Coyotes went 1-4-0 after their Jan. 8-12 bye. Lightning players said the key is resting while also staying active to keep in shape. Forwards Gabriel Dumont and Erik Condra were sent down to AHL Syracuse to get playing time.

Goalie Ben Bishop said players are used to a three-day break for All-Star weekend and Christmas. "It's kind of a double-edged sword," he said. "We're playing well, but obviously, five days off is going to help. It's nice to get away for a little bit and recharge before the (playoff) push."

This has to be hardest on the goalies, who won't face a shot until Friday. And Bishop and Andrei Vasilevskiy have been on a roll. Bishop has allowed one goal in his past two starts. Vasilevskiy made 37 saves Friday in one of his best performances of the season in a shootout loss to the Wild.

Bishop said that considering how much he and Vasilevskiy have played and practiced, the break shouldn't affect them much. "But you never know until you go through it," he said.

Joe Smith can be reached at joesmith@tampabay.com. Follow @TBTImes_JSmith.

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>>FAST FACTS

Bye, bye, bye

Teams have typically struggled coming out of their bye weeks this season.

• Arizona (Jan. 8-12)

Next 5 games: 1-4-0

• Colorado (Jan. 7-11)

Next 5 games: 0-4-1

• Islanders (Jan. 1-5)

Next 5 games: 1-2-2

• Rangers (Jan. 8-12)

Next 5 games: 2-3-0

• Ottawa (Jan. 2-6)

Next 5 games: 3-2-0

• Flyers (Jan. 16-20)

Next 5 games: 3-2-0

• Penguins (Jan. 1-7)

Next 5 games: 2-3-0

• Maple Leafs (Jan. 8-12)

Next 5 games: 3-2-0

Lightning faces good and bad of bye week 02/12/17 [Last modified: Sunday, February 12, 2017 10:01pm]
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