STOCKHOLM — Nine days ago, as the Lightning boarded a plan to Stockholm, this seemed like the worst possible timing.
They had lost four of their last six games and weren’t playing great. They had been traveling most of the first month of the season, with a nine-day trip through Canada and five in New York. A home stand seemed in order, not a on another continent.
“In a funny way, this was what our team needed,” Lightning forward Steven Stamkos said. “It was a very fun trip, to say the least. We definitely became tighter as a group this trip and you saw it on the ice with the way we played.”
He followed that up by saying it’ll also be nice to be home. Those three games in New York feel like a month ago at this point, something coach Jon Cooper echoed.
This trip offered the Lightning three things: a break from the routine, practice time and the ultimate bonding experience. The usual school of thought says it’s good to hop right into another game and shake off a bad one. Turns out, the Lightning needed the opposite.
“We were able to do a mental reset,” forward Tyler Johnson said. “That definitely benefited us.”
Likewise, most of group has been together for a few years now, and this season started with enough travel to bond. There’s something different about exploring a new city, though, especially when you have multiple nights without a game.
“Those kinds of bonds are what make the difference come adversity,” team owner Jeff Vinik said. “When you know your teammate has your back, that bond may have been formed at 2 in the morning at some club in Stockholm.”
In addition to clubs, the team wandered Gamla stan, the Old Town, in groups, trying out food from the list defenseman Victor Hedman had emailed everyone.
One of the biggest elements Stamkos saw working well in these two consistent wins was that the team coming together as a group, picking each other up and having each other’s back.
Teams practice all season, but they rarely get a chance to string practices together. Early on this season, the Lightning has been practicing hard and long. They went back to the usual length of 45 minutes or so on this trip, with four sessions in five days.
Cooper saw the effect in the two wins. He saw the pieces the team has talked about emerge on the ice together. The trick is not leaving it behind in Sweden.
“It’s not just a one night thing,” he said. “It needs to be next Thursday and then it needs to be next Saturday. That’s what we’re looking for.”
The first step will be catching up on sleep. That started with Sunday’s 11-hour flight, then with the two days off before returning to practice Wednesday.
Stamkos wants to see this team, including himself, carry the same enthusiasm. They wanted to do the right things in the two games against Buffalo and it showed.
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“It’s not necessarily the final result, it’s how we play getting there,” Cooper said. “If we continue to play well, points will follow.”