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As long as you don’t believe in jinxes, the Lightning still have this handled

John Romano | You may not want to admit it, but losing Game 4 in Montreal means Tampa Bay can be in party mode on Wednesday.
Do these fans look worried about a Game 5 at Amalie Arena? The Lightning drew more than 16,000 to downtown Tampa on Monday night to watch Game 4 on TV, so Wednesday night's Game 5 should be rocking.
Do these fans look worried about a Game 5 at Amalie Arena? The Lightning drew more than 16,000 to downtown Tampa on Monday night to watch Game 4 on TV, so Wednesday night's Game 5 should be rocking. [ ARIELLE BADER | Times ]
Published Jul. 6

You’re not worried. Jon Cooper is not worried. The Lightning are not worried.

Tampa Mayor Jane Castor?

Okay, she might be a little worried.

So the Lightning lost 3-2 in overtime in Game 4 against Montreal Monday night. This is not a shock. The Canadiens may not have Tampa Bay’s recent pedigree or panache, but they’re not pushovers. It would have been more surprising if the Lightning had actually pulled off a sweep in the Stanley Cup final.

And, honestly, after winning the Cup last season without a single home game during the pandemic, the possibility the Lightning can now clinch at Amalie Arena during Game 5 Wednesday night sounds like a nice consolation in the aftermath of Monday’s loss.

Just so long as you weren’t wishing for it.

That’s what should have the mayor feeling a little spooked this morning. Castor cheerfully suggested over the weekend that the Lightning ease up against the Canadiens in Game 4 so Tampa Bay fans could enjoy a celebration in their own building 48 hours later. The thought that the mayor might have jinxed the whole danged season sounds about as gloomy as the incoming tropical storm.

(I might have mentioned something similar myself, but nobody listens to me.)

Now, it’s important to point out that the odds remain heavily in Tampa Bay’s favor. The Lightning have not lost back-to-back in the postseason in more than 40 games covering two seasons, so the prospect of losing back-to-back-to-back-to-back seems remote.

But you really don’t want to invite needless drama into your life. Especially when your opponent just erased a 3-games-to-1 series deficit against Toronto in the first round of the playoffs.

“Let me tell you, any fan of any team if you gave them the option to win the Stanley Cup or you have to take your chances? I think the fan base would have loved if we came home with the Stanley Cup tonight,” Lightning coach Jon Cooper said. “That’s paramount. I think it’s icing on the cake if you can do it at home.

“You have ample time to celebrate with the fans when you win a Stanley Cup. We can’t hang our heads saying because we’re going home it gives us an edge. Our fans deserve this, but there’s no guarantees.”

In some ways, this was the easiest game to predict in the series. If the Lightning have had a weakness in the past two postseasons, it has been their tendency to take a deep breath and relax when they have built a series lead.

With a chance to close out a series, the Lightning is 7-5 the past two years. In every other situation, they are 24-8.

As far as flaws go, that’s not exactly fatal. It’s been a slight stumble on the way to finishing the job. You might almost describe it as a compliment. This is a team that understands when it needs to match desperation with desperation, and it typically rises to the occasion.

“It’s why you go up in a series, to give yourself a chance, or multiple chances, to knock a team out,” Cooper said. “We’ll just have to regroup and see if we can do it in Game 5.”

So here’s what you hang on to this morning:

The Lightning played well enough to win Game 4. They may have played well enough to have dominated Game 4. Tampa Bay did not just have a 34-20 edge in shots on goal, it also had a 70-40 edge in overall shots when you count blocks and misses. That’s a pretty strong indication that Lightning players spent a good chunk of the night with the puck on their sticks.

Brayden Point hit a post. Victor Hedman hit a post. Nikita Kucherov hit a post. That’s a lot of near-misses and a lot of bad luck.

Of course, the Canadiens could have said the same thing about the way they dominated Game 2 and still came out on the wrong end of the score. Sometimes, you don’t get what you deserve.

On the other hand, maybe Tampa Bay fans will get what they deserve. They had to watch from afar with all 22 games played in quarantine in Canada last year, so the chance to clinch a championship with a full house at Amalie Arena seems awfully inviting.

Just as long as you are completely confident that this was just a blip and not the start of something serious.

“Maybe it’s set up. Maybe this is the way it’s meant to be, and that’s how it’s going to play out,” Cooper said. “But two teams still have to play the games. And the game is decided in the trenches, and hopefully we can give our fans that gift.”

John Romano can be reached at jromano@tampabay.com. Follow @romano_tbtimes.

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