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With second round in reach, Lightning need to remain cool under fire

If the Lightning can navigate the mind games and keep emotions in check, the series with the Panthers is theirs for the taking Monday night.
Lightning defenseman Ryan McDonagh, left, works to get around Panthers center Carter Verhaeghe as defenseman Erik Cernak works on his opponent along the glass in the second period of Game 4 on Saturday night in Tampa.
Lightning defenseman Ryan McDonagh, left, works to get around Panthers center Carter Verhaeghe as defenseman Erik Cernak works on his opponent along the glass in the second period of Game 4 on Saturday night in Tampa. [ DIRK SHADD | Times ]
Published May 23
Updated May 24

TAMPA — With a series-clinching win in reach, the Lightning can’t afford to focus on potential bad blood with the Panthers.

Sure, coach Jon Cooper had pointed comments about officiating after game-ending injuries to right wing Nikita Kucherov and defenseman Mikhail Sergachev in Saturday’s 6-2 win in Game 4 for a 3-1 series lead. But it’s all eyes on Game 5 on Monday night in Sunrise.

“We’ve come here to win four (games). We’ve only won three,” Cooper said. “We still have to get another one.”

Cooper did not have an update on the conditions of Kucherov or Sergachev on Sunday.

Related: Forget the rowdy stuff, the Lightning have bigger goals in mind

Kucherov was slashed on the back of the left knee by Panthers forward Anthony Duclair midway through the third period Saturday. He went down to the ice writhing in pain, then got up and skated off, hunched over and unable to put weight on the leg. He didn’t return.

Later in the third, Sergachev left the game after taking a blindsided hit into the boards from Florida forward Patric Hornqvist.

The Lightning have to be better on the emotional side of things, Cooper said. Mind games have been a consistent storyline throughout the first-round series in addition to physicality.

Lightning center Yanni Gourde works to escape the grasp of Panthers left wing Ryan Lomberg while fighting during the third period of Game 4.
Lightning center Yanni Gourde works to escape the grasp of Panthers left wing Ryan Lomberg while fighting during the third period of Game 4. [ DOUGLAS R. CLIFFORD | Times ]

“We have to be better with our emotions and not getting caught up in the antics that are going on in the game,” Cooper said. “We can be more physical. We can be a better hockey team. But I like where we’re sitting in this series, and we’ll be bringing it (Monday night).”

Related: Down 3-1 to Lightning, the Panthers ‘need a short memory’

The Lightning aren’t going to step on the ice and immediately look for a fight with the Panthers on Monday night.

“They’re a smart group,” color analyst and former player Brian Engblom said. “They’re not going to go out and try to drop the gloves right off the bat and start running guys and make threats.

“As far as the physical or intimidation or score settling or whatever you want to call it, (the Lightning are) not going to go out there and say, ‘Hey, you,’ right off the faceoff. I don’t see that happening, certainly not a whole lot.”

Staying out of the box will play a key role, too.

Related: Lightning’s Andrei Vasilevskiy stands tall against Panthers

At the end of the second period Saturday, defenseman Victor Hedman emphatically waved his teammates off the ice to get them into the locker room before things escalated.

“Especially in the playoffs, you play by the clock and the score,” Engblom said. “What score is it? How much time? What’s going on? And that’s why when you get a three-, four-goal lead, that’s why all hell breaks loose because it’s out of control.

“And there’s nothing you can do in that game. You know darn well your chances coming from four down, that’s when guys start taking things in their own hands. And you get the craziness and then the response.

“Now everything (elevates). The tension, the blood pressure of the game goes up 50 notches. That’s it. Now it’s really on.”

Contact Mari Faiello at mfaiello@tampabay.com. Follow @faiello_mari.

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