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Lightning’s scrimmage simulation a ‘good first step'

It wasn't perfect hockey, but players competed hard and showed a will to win, coach Jon Cooper said.
Lightning goaltender Curtis McElhinney makes a save during the second period of the Blue vs. White scrimmage Monday at Amalie Arena.
Lightning goaltender Curtis McElhinney makes a save during the second period of the Blue vs. White scrimmage Monday at Amalie Arena. [ DIRK SHADD | Times ]
Published Jul. 20, 2020
Updated Jul. 21, 2020

TAMPA — The Lightning don’t know quite what to expect when they depart for the playoff bubble in Toronto. But Monday’s scrimmage at Amalie Arena tried to capture some sense of hockey as they know it.

The stands were empty, as they will be throughout the Lightning’s resumption of play, but music blared after every stoppage. Game uniforms replaced practice jerseys.

But otherwise, a lot was different. A bubble life will be.

“I think I’m just trying to have (an) adequate number of shows downloaded before I get up to Canadian Netflix,” backup goaltender Curtis McElhinney deadpanned. “You know, I’m not sure what to expect. I don’t know what our life’s going to look like once we’re up there.”

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Monday offered the Lightning’s truest opportunity yet to simulate game action since training camp began last week. But unlike in a normal game, players could be clearly heard calling to each other. They played three periods of only 15 minutes. Two-minute penalties were slashed in half.

They began play at 4 p.m. to replicate the start time of their first two round-robin games in Toronto for playoff seeding.

“I think the pace was pretty good,” said defenseman Jan Rutta, who played in his first game simulation since suffering a lower-body injury in February. “Obviously, you don’t want to do, like, open-ice hits. … I think everybody’s just trying to play hard, but of course respect your teammates.”

After playing to a scoreless tie in regulation, the Blue and White teams each scored with a one-minute, one-man advantage, and then went through 10 rounds of a shootout before defenseman Luke Schenn scored the winning goal for the Blue team.

“Either we can’t score or we played really great defense,” coach Jon Cooper joked. “I enjoyed that. It’s a week into camp, and guys were into it. Guys wanted to win. They competed hard.

“It wasn’t perfect hockey, but there was a lot more good than the bad out of that. It’s our very first kind of game-like situation. So it was a good first step.”

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Without knowing exactly how games will be run in empty Scotiabank Arena in Toronto, Cooper said that playing in front of no fans might actually help players on the ice.

“It’s probably going to be easier for the guys just in the sense that you can hear everything on the ice,” Cooper said. “And you can hear the guys talking on the bench … everybody. The communication is really good. And so, that’s probably going to help the game; it’s probably going to help the players. Because you don’t realize when the crowd’s really into it how little you actually get to hear.”

As expected, captain Steven Stamkos didn’t play as he recovers from a leg injury suffered during voluntary workouts during the shutdown. Cedric Paquette, who had been absent since Friday after getting banged up at Wednesday’s practice, returned and Cooper said he was impressed with how the forward played.

Related: Lightning coach, players adjust routines with NHL’s return-to-play protocols

McElhinney might have stood out the most. In the second period, he turned away a shot by Ondrej Palat and then dove across the crease for a save on Blake Coleman’s rebound attempt.

“Yeah, I don’t need any longer of a training camp,” McElhinney said. “I’m used to long stretches of not playing, so for me, the less time I have to spend in a training camp not playing games or getting ready for games, you know I’m pretty happy about that. So this is more than enough time.”

Contact Eduardo A. Encina at eencina@tampabay.com. Follow @EddieInTheYard.