It’s only happened one other time in the past 11 seasons: back-to-back games in the Stanley Cup final.
The Lightning and Stars will play on consecutive nights, beginning with tonight’s Game 4 in Edmonton.
It’s the first time a Cup final has featured a back-to-back since Games 1 and 2 of the 2009 final between the Penguins and Red Wings.
But neither the Lightning nor Stars seem fazed by the idea of consecutive games at this point in the playoffs, especially if it means exiting the bubble sooner rather than later.
“As a team, we’ve been in these situations plenty of times," Lightning forward Alex Killorn said Friday. “It’s more of a mental battle than anything, so I think we’ll be ready. We’re looking forward to it, but we’re not thinking about that right now. It’s really just the game tonight.”
Said Stars coach Rick Bowness Thursday afternoon: “We saw the schedule, we knew there was a back-to-back, you deal with it and we will deal with it the best we can.”
Lightning coach Jon Cooper doesn’t think it will be difficult for his team to focus on the task at hand, especially with the Stanley Cup at stake (Tampa Bay leads the series two games to one) and the chance for players to see their families soon, after 61 days inside the Canadian bubble (first Toronto, then Edmonton).
“If this series went the distance, we know we’re leaving a week from today,” Cooper said Friday. “Once you’ve been in here this long — and we’re in the 60s — going home in three days versus seven, it’s not much of a difference anymore. We just do know that there’s an end date, and so I don’t think that will really have an effect on how we’re thinking about approaching these games.”
Goaltender Andrei Vasilevskiy will start Game 4, his 23rd straight in the postseason, with back-up Curtis McElhinney waiting on the bench. Vasilevskiy is the only goalie this season to play in each of his team’s playoff games.
“I think that the back-to-backs in the playoffs can’t be judged the same way the back-to-backs can in the regular season, because you’re taking travel out of it now,” Cooper said Thursday. “Will things change if (Friday) goes five overtimes? Who knows. There are aspects that we go through that have us make these decisions.”
Steven Stamkos was ruled out for Game 4 on Friday morning. But that doesn’t necessarily mean the Lightning captain is out for the remainder of the series, Cooper said.
With the addition of Stamkos to the lineup in Game 3 against the Stars, the Lightning played 12 forwards and six defensemen for the second straight game. Tampa Bay was down a forward when Stamkos was unable to play after the first period. Previously, the Lightning had used an adjusted 11-7 lineup for 11 straight games, from Game 2 of the conference semifinal against Boston through Game 1 of the Stanley Cup final.
Jan Rutta made his third postseason appearance in Game 3, while fellow defensemen Zach Bogosian and Luke Schenn were scratched for a second straight game.
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