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Lightning's five-day break comes at particularly good time

DOUGLAS R. CLIFFORD   |   Times Tampa Bay Lightning defenseman Anton Stralman (6) defends with Tampa Bay Lightning goalie Andrei Vasilevskiy (88) during the second period of Saturdayâ\u0088\u009A¢â\u0080\u009A\u0082 \u0308â\u0080\u009A\u0084¢s (12/23/17) game between the Tampa Bay Lightning and the Minnesota Wild at Amalie Arena in Tampa.
DOUGLAS R. CLIFFORD | Times Tampa Bay Lightning defenseman Anton Stralman (6) defends with Tampa Bay Lightning goalie Andrei Vasilevskiy (88) during the second period of Saturdayâ\u0088\u009A¢â\u0080\u009A\u0082 \u0308â\u0080\u009A\u0084¢s (12/23/17) game between the Tampa Bay Lightning and the Minnesota Wild at Amalie Arena in Tampa.
Published Jan. 14, 2018

By ROGER MOONEY

TAMPA — Before the last game on the Lightning's last road trip, coach Jon Cooper asked his team if anyone was tired.

It was an obvious question, given the Lightning was playing the second game of a back-to-back set, had lost 6-3 at Ottawa the night before and the team was three games away from reaching its five-day bye week.

"Okay, we got three left. One on the road and two at home. Who's tired here? Are you guys tired?" Cooper said he asked the team.

"And it was 'No,' " Cooper said before Thursday's game against the Flames, a game the Lightning lost 5-1 while looking kind of like a tired team.

Defenseman Victor Hedman suffered a lower-body injury in that game — one expected to sideline him for three to six weeks — and captain Steven Stamkos said that sucked some energy out of the Lightning. But goalie Andrei Vasilevskiy continued to allow goals. He has allowed 15 in his past three starts.

The plan, Cooper told his team in Detroit on the final night of the trip, was to win those last three games. It won the first two and reached the break with three losses in its past five games.

It seems the break is coming at a good time for the team with the best record in the league.

"Yeah," Vasilevskiy said. "Especially after the last couple of games."

Said defenseman Anton Stralman: "Most guys have something they're fighting, and it's always good to get a couple days to both physically and mentally get away from it a little bit."

The Lightning finished a stretch of nine games in 15 days against the Flames. It returns to action Thursday against Vegas, then has a four-game, six-day trip that includes back-to-back games at Chicago and Nashville. There is another break for the All-Star Game at Amalie Arena, then another trip, four games in Western Canada.

This break is "coming at a good time," Stralman said.

Though the players can certainly use the days off to take care of physical ailments, Cooper said the bye week's main benefit is the mental break in the middle of a long season.

"You hope you can get in and win that last game going in to the break," he said. "Unfortunately we didn't, but we've played some pretty good hockey down the stretch. We've been on the road for a long time, and this is going to be a really big test as we go on the road for eight in a row (after Vegas). You just have to weather through the next stage of our schedule.

"To come off the last road trip with seven points was a heck of a job. We get two (wins) here (during the first two games of the interrupted home stand). But let's just take a breath, take a mental break and come back ready to go."