TAMPA — Just because the Lightning is losing its grip on this series doesn't mean it's losing its nerve.
It hasn't looked good, with Tampa Bay dropping two straight games in watching its 3-0 lead over the Canadiens in their best-of-seven Eastern Conference semifinal cut to 3-2 heading into Tuesday's Game 6 at Amalie Arena.
But the Lightning insists it's not feeling extra pressure, believing in the resiliency and character it has shown all season. Plus, it's betting Montreal would love to trade positions, momentum or not.
"The law of averages (is) our 'A' game is going to come out soon," veteran Lightning wing Brenden Morrow said. "We haven't had our best stuff yet. We still believe our best hockey matches up pretty good against other teams' best hockey. We just have to find a way to muster it up. Hopefully this little bit of adversity and somewhat desperation now is going to bring that out of us."
Morrow said he believes Tampa Bay might be suffering a hangover from its seven-game series with Detroit in the first round. Coach Jon Cooper said its Achilles heel in this series has been puck management, with two turnovers leading to goals in Saturday's 2-1 loss in Game 5. Cooper believes his team has been playing uptight at home, where it is 3-3 in the playoffs after winning an NHL-high 32 games in the regular season.
The Canadiens were in Tampa Bay's spot in the first round, up 3-0 on Ottawa before white-knuckling a series-clinching win in Game 6.
"It's tough," Montreal defenseman P.K. Subban said. "When you're up 3-0 and you don't close it out the first time, you don't close it out the second time, mentally it can eat away at you.
"I expect (the Lightning's) best game (Tuesday). They're going back home. They've played a lot of good hockey there. And I expect (goalie Ben) Bishop to be a lot better."
Bishop, pulled in the second period of Game 4's 6-2 loss, bounced back in Game 5, giving up just two goals on 29 shots. The problem was Montreal MVP candidate Carey Price was better, giving up one goal in 25.
The Lightning left the Bell Centre on Saturday night encouraged it got back to playing its game, especially in the third period, when captain Steven Stamkos said it "came alive."
"With the skill that we have, and if we stay disciplined with our structure, we can be the better team," Stamkos said. "I know we didn't get the result in the third (period Saturday), but if we stick with the process, we're going to get it. This one (stinks), but I think we do have something to build on."
Stamkos said nobody envisioned the Lightning going up 3-0 in this series, and it got a little lucky to do so, winning in double overtime in Game 1 and on a buzzer-beater in Game 3. Canadiens forward P.A. Parenteau, who scored the winner Saturday, said Montreal had a team meeting shortly after its crushing Game 3 loss, and that set the tone for its comeback. This is the first time Montreal has forced a Game 6 after being down 3-0.
"We really believed in ourselves," Parenteau said. "Sometimes you're down 3-0 in a series and you know it's over. It wasn't the case this time around. We know we have a chance."
Said Montreal coach Michel Therrien: "When you have a group of players that believe, you never know what can happen."