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Behind closed doors, the Lightning aren’t afraid to talk about hard truths

John Romano | One of the reasons for Tampa Bay’s postseason success is that players do not allow bad performances to be swept under the rug.
Sometimes you have to be willing to stand in front of the net, as Tampa Bay's Corey Perry (10) did before being shoved by Rangers defenseman Justin Braun (61) in Game 1 on Wednesday night. And sometimes, you have to be willing to speak up in the locker room when a team's intensity doesn't match the moment. Perry has done that, too.
Sometimes you have to be willing to stand in front of the net, as Tampa Bay's Corey Perry (10) did before being shoved by Rangers defenseman Justin Braun (61) in Game 1 on Wednesday night. And sometimes, you have to be willing to speak up in the locker room when a team's intensity doesn't match the moment. Perry has done that, too. [ DIRK SHADD | Times ]
Published Jun. 2|Updated Jun. 3

NEW YORK — The voice isn’t always important. And the tone isn’t always angry.

By now, the Lightning have won enough, lost enough and evolved enough that players do not need some Knute Rockne version of a pregame speech to send them screaming into the night.

Sometimes they need just reminders. Of who they are, where they’ve been and what they are trying to accomplish. Sometimes they need someone just like Corey Perry.

A couple of weeks ago, when the season was on the brink against Toronto, Perry decided it was time to let his voice be heard. He had been with Dallas when the Lightning beat the Stars in the 2020 Stanley Cup final. And he was with Montreal when the Lightning beat the Canadiens for the 2021 Cup.

Now he was telling his Tampa Bay teammates what those experiences were like. How frustrating and exhausting it was to play against the Lightning when they were fully committed to their system.

He didn’t need to connect the dots, but the inference was clear. The Lightning were not giving the same kind of effort against Toronto.

Lightning right wing Corey Perry on the ice during practice at Madison Square Garden on Thursday.
Lightning right wing Corey Perry on the ice during practice at Madison Square Garden on Thursday. [ DIRK SHADD | Times ]

A few days later, the Lightning had eliminated the Maple Leafs.

“You try to read the room. You try to get a perspective on how you can talk to them,” Perry said. “It’s not that you’re yelling at anyone, but you’re figuring out your tone of voice and how you want to say what needs to be said. You know, we’re all brothers. And we’re going to have differences, but you begin to see how guys react in certain ways. You’re just trying to be yourself.

“I’m a little different away from the rink. I’m a lot quieter away from here. But I’m comfortable with these guys in the dressing room, and I can say what I want to say.”

So who will say something before Game 2 on Friday against the Rangers in the Eastern Conference final? Who will stand up and say the things that happened throughout a 6-2 loss in Game 1 was unacceptable?

It doesn’t have to be Perry. It doesn’t have to be Steven Stamkos. This is a team loaded with veterans, stars and personalities. Ryan McDonagh has a voice. Pat Maroon, too. Pierre-Edouard Bellemare and Alex Killorn. Even Nikita Kucherov, who has had moments of immaturity in the past, has grown as a leader.

Coach Jon Cooper will have his say — and already did at Thursday’s practice day — but he knows the history that has been shared in that locker room and the amount of trust that exists among players.

Sometimes it’s best left to the players to figure out what needs to be said.

“We, as a group, are pretty good at self-correcting. And the guys, they take losses personal,” Cooper said. “And I think (Game 1), especially as deep as we are right now, the way the score got out of hand affects the guys.”

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Lightning center Steven Stamkos after he takes a shot while on the ice during practice a day after the series-opening loss to the Rangers.
Lightning center Steven Stamkos after he takes a shot while on the ice during practice a day after the series-opening loss to the Rangers. [ DIRK SHADD | Times ]

The Lightning have an 8-4 record in this postseason, but this has not been an easy time compared with recent memories. They are missing injured Brayden Point, and they are playing with an oddly shaped roster.

They have already trailed in series more times this year than in the past two postseasons combined. They were behind Toronto 1-0, 2-1 and 3-2, and now trail New York 1-0.

The only time they were chasing teams the past two years was when they lost the series openers against the Bruins (2020), the Stars (2020) and the Islanders (2021).

“We have to respond,” Stamkos said. “We have been in this position before, and I’m confident our group is going to have a much better effort next game.”

It’s now an indelible part of this team’s lore that it always follows a postseason loss with a victory. And since the start of the 2020 playoffs, they are barely above .500 in Game 1 of a series (a 6-5 record), but they are nearly perfect in Game 2 (9-1).

None of that will mean anything against the Rangers on Friday at Madison Square Garden. It’s a different season, a different series and a different Lightning team.

But there’s a shared experience here, and a shared expectation, too. Perry saw it from the outside for two years and now has a better understanding of what makes this group unique.

He might have something to say if the mood strikes him Friday, but he’s just as likely to let someone else take the initiative.

“When you win back-to-back Cups, you’re going to have a lot of guys who have been there, done that and gone through it all. Not a lot of teams have that luxury,” Perry said. “It’s not always the same guys talking. It’s whenever, whatever, whoever. Whatever needs to be said, will be said.”

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

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