TAMPA — It certainly came as a surprise to many, including some in the Lightning dressing room, that its second-round playoff series with the Islanders was starting tonight, as opposed to Thursday.
"We were mostly told we were going to be playing Thursday," G Ben Bishop said.
But coach Jon Cooper said his staff was aware of the possibility of a Wednesday start and planned for both.
"We knew there was a chance," he said, "and it came through."
Cooper said it didn't impact how they approached preparation, though one wonders if Tampa Bay would have still taken Monday off if it had known it was playing tonight. The Lightning didn't know its opponent until the Islanders' double-overtime win Sunday in Brooklyn in Game 6, which eliminated the Panthers. Tampa Bay last played Thursday; Cooper said since then his staff split duties on scouting/planning for the Islanders and Panthers.
"It doesn't affect the players as much as it affects the coaching staff," Cooper said. "Those are the guys that have to grind through and ultimately one guy gets the, 'Hey thanks for trying but we don't need your stuff.' Give him a little pat on the back."
The Lightning lost four of five meetings to the Panthers during the regular season, but the Islanders beat Tampa Bay two out of three games, too.
"All I know is when we played Florida five times and (went) 1-4 against them and I thought Florida was an outstanding team, and the Islanders disposed of them in six," Cooper said. "Were there very close games? Were there a lot of overtime games? There were. But those were two really good hockey teams. They can play the game anyway you want — heavy, fast. And they've got their stars rising to the occasion.
"We know what to expect (with the Islanders), but the mere fact they knocked out one heck of a Florida team shows how well they're playing right now."
Secondary scoring: Both the Islanders and Lightning have been top-heavy in the first round.
Tampa Bay's top line of Tyler Johnson, Alex Killorn and Nikita Kucherov combined for 10 of the team's 12 goals. The Islanders' top line of John Tavares (five goals), Kyle Okposo (three) and Frans Nielsen have nine of their 15 goals.
But Cooper thinks that can change this round.
"It's a series-to-series thing, I truly believe that," Cooper said. "There are series where guys rise above and push you over the top. That could be your goaltender, or it could be a certain line. Then there's series where those lines cancel each other out. That's where secondary scoring comes in. I truly believe there's a hero every night and you just don't know who that's going to be. More often than not it can be the same guy, but can never plan on that."
Nuts and bolts: RW Ryan Callahan, who didn't practice Sunday (rest day), and RW Mike Blunden, who missed for personal reasons, were back Tuesday. D Anton Stralman (fractured leg) and RW J.T. Brown (upper body) were still not on the ice and aren't expected to be ready for the start of the series.
Times staff writer Matt Baker contributed to this report. Contact Joe Smith at email@example.com. Follow @TBTimes_JSmith.