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Lightning knows how to recover from Game 1 loss

Published Jun. 6, 2015

TAMPA

Veteran wing Brenden Morrow admits the Lightning rarely has made it easy on itself. l In three of the four rounds of these playoffs, Tampa Bay has lost the first game of a series, including Wednesday's Game 1 of the Stanley Cup final. l "At least we've got experience with that, right?" Morrow said Friday, smiling. "This is nothing new to us." l But the Lightning has drawn confidence from its resilience. It bounced back to win Game 2, and the series, against the Red Wings and the Rangers after Game 1 losses. And though Tampa Bay realizes the magnitude of tonight's Game 2 of the Cup final against the Blackhawks — only two teams in NHL history have won the Stanley Cup after dropping the first two games of the final at home — there's no panic in this group.

"I think that's why we're here," coach Jon Cooper said. "Every time we get challenged — and it's been in so many different ways, whether it was Game 6 and Game 7 in Detroit, giving up two in Montreal, Game 7 against the Rangers — I think that's what makes this group the way they are. How they've just come together, turned the odds.

"We understand how, percentage-wise, we've kind of bucked the trend a few times. But that's what winning teams do."

The Lightning was ticked off after Wednesday's game, lamenting how it blew a one-goal third-period lead by being too passive. In that way, Cooper said, the two-day break between Games 1 and 2 wasn't ideal.

"If we had our choice, we would have just dropped the puck at 11:30 that night and, 'Let's play again,' " Cooper said.

But, result aside, the Lightning was very encouraged by how it played for most of Game 1, especially its strong start against the experienced Blackhawks, who have won two Cups in the past five seasons.

"If there's one thing we learned, it's that we know we belong," Cooper said. "The guys in the room feel they can win. You can't have a better feeling than that."

The Lightning has responded well after losses this season — it is 7-1 following a defeat in the postseason and was the only team in the NHL to not lose three in a row during the regular season — and there are several reasons why. The players are good at being accountable, quickly realizing what mistakes were made and how to fix them. There's a mature mind-set, sparked by the leadership core, and that keeps the Lightning from looking too far ahead, such as at the consequences of falling behind 0-2 in the series heading to Chicago versus being tied 1-1.

"You have to win a hockey game before you can win two, three," said center Brian Boyle, a member of the leadership core.

The Lightning also is a confident team that gets angry when it loses. Boyle pointed to its sharp, fast-paced practice Friday as an example. Tampa Bay doesn't believe it has to change much, liking how aggressive it was early in Game 1, with a strong forecheck leading to quality scoring chances.

"We weren't giving (Chicago) anything," wing Alex Killorn said.

But the key is maintaining that for the entire game and not getting in prevent-defense mode to protect a lead.

"It's playing on the right side of the puck, playing forward," Morrow said. "If we're pivoting and skating backwards, we're not playing the game the right way. When you're on your heels, that team with the amount of speed and firepower, they're going to cheat and make you pay."

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The Lightning is also expecting a better game from the Blackhawks, with Game 1 typically a feeling-out process for both teams. Morrow knows how important Game 2 is; "an 0-2 deficit is huge." Only the 1942 Maple Leafs and 1966 Canadiens hoisted the Cup after losing the first two at home, the Hockey News says.

Morrow, 36, the elder statesman in the Lightning locker room, has been impressed with the maturity the group has shown during the playoffs.

"There were a lot of question marks how this team would respond," Morrow said. "You can see the competitiveness and will in these guys, that when it's a big game, big stage, they come through."

Contact Joe Smith at joesmith@tampabay.com. Follow @TBTimes_JSmith.