TAMPA — Dwayne Roloson has a simple rule when it comes to game preparation:
One game at a time.
"For me, personally, I focus on (today)," the Lightning goaltender said about the marquee matchup with the Flyers at the St. Pete Times Forum. "Focus on (today) and be ready to play one of the top teams in the league."
The problem for Tampa Bay is it faces three huge games this week at the Times Forum, including Thursday against the Red Wings and Saturday against the Panthers.
Each game is its own emotional powder keg. Each has a unique plot line.
There are messages to be sent ahead of potential playoff matchups, important points to be won as teams jockey for postseason positions.
Taken as a whole, it might be the Lightning's biggest week of the season. But players and coaches said taking it as a whole is the worst thing they could do.
"You can't look at the week," coach Guy Boucher said. "You're prepared for the week, and we're going to be motivated this week, no two ways about it. But ultimately, right now, it has to be all about Philly."
Talk about a grudge match. The Lightning has beaten the Flyers three out of three, and tonight is the last chance in the regular season for Philadelphia, No. 1 team in the Eastern Conference, to beat No. 2. Given the teams could meet in the postseason, such a marker is important.
The game against the Red Wings brings a whole different set of emotions and distractions as it is the first time Lightning general manager Steve Yzerman faces the team with which he spent 27 years as a player and executive.
Then it really is time to buckle down as the Lightning, trying to hold off the Capitals in the Southeast, cannot leave two points on the table against the Panthers, who are last in the division.
"It's a mistake to get caught up in who the opponent is," center Dominic Moore said. "Obviously, we thrive on challenges against good teams, but you want to focus on yourself and your own improvement because that's the only way to stay consistent and get where we want to be."
But you don't want to be naive, either.
Boucher said he recently heard on NHL Network "some people talking from Philly. They want this game."
And don't expect sympathy from the Flyers, 13-4-0 since Jan. 1, because the Lightning will be without defenseman Mike Lundin (abdomen), wing Ryan Malone (stomach) and perhaps center Nate Thompson, who may or may not be recovering from at least a mild concussion.
"We can't slack off for two minutes because the other team is too good," Boucher said. "Look at their lineup. It's ridiculous how much depth they have. If we have two guys not ready, we're losing. It's as simple as that."
That is why Roloson said, "I don't think there's any danger of us looking ahead."
Though everyone knows what is to come.
"This is a pretty big week," captain Vinny Lecavalier said. "Obviously, one game at a time, but three really big games for us."
Damian Cristodero can be reached at [email protected]