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The cost-benefit of the Lightning’s finishing road trip

Tampa Bay finishes the regular season against four teams that pull the Lightning “into the fight.”
Toronto Maple Leafs center Auston Matthews (34) battles with Lightning defenseman Erik Cernak (81) for a loose puck during a game in January in Tampa. [AP Photo/Chris O'Meara]
Toronto Maple Leafs center Auston Matthews (34) battles with Lightning defenseman Erik Cernak (81) for a loose puck during a game in January in Tampa. [AP Photo/Chris O'Meara]
Published Apr. 3, 2019

TORONTO — Lightning coach Jon Cooper feels there’s a major event at Amalie Arena every April, a Final Four, Frozen Four, something.

Well, not every April, but most. And this year it’s the Women’s Final Four, which starts Friday.

“We know in April, we’re going on the road,” said Cooper, whose team’s four-game tour through the northern Atlantic Division continues Thursday at Toronto.

The Lightning’s bid for the best regular season record in NHL history ended Tuesday night in Montreal with a 4-2 loss to the Canadiens. Tampa Bay still can tie Detroit’s 1996 record of 62 victories with wins Thursday at Toronto and Saturday at Boston in the regular-season finale.

This week’s road opponents pull the Lightning “into the fight,” Cooper said.

“We need to move toward what we want to be next week,” Lightning defenseman Anton Strålman said after the loss to Montreal. “That means bringing emotions, especially defensively.”

After an embarrassing loss in Boston a month ago, Louis Domingue said the Lightning needed to show everyone else why it is the best in the league. The team probably wouldn’t mind sending that message going into the playoffs.

“For me, to be on the road, it’s a good time, because you’re with your team the whole time,” Cooper said. “There’s a lot of preparation that can go in when we’re all together and there are no distractions of being at home.”