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Facing elimination, Lightning focused on better start in Denver

Tampa Bay’s first two road games in the Stanley Cup final got out of hand early.
The Lightning's last game in Denver was one to forget, a 7-0 loss in Game 2.
The Lightning's last game in Denver was one to forget, a 7-0 loss in Game 2. [ DOUGLAS R. CLIFFORD | Times ]
Published Jun. 24|Updated Jun. 24

DENVER — If the Lightning are going to keep their drive for three straight Stanley Cups alive, they must do a better job of weathering a strong Avalanche start at home in tonight’s Game 5 at Ball Arena.

Tampa Bay started off remarkably slow in the previous two games in Denver, falling behind by three goals just 14 minutes into Game 2 en route to a 7-0 Colorado rout.

The Lightning were outscored 5-1 in the first 14 minutes of Games 1 and 2. Colorado took a 3-1 lead after one period in Game 1 before Tampa Bay rallied late for a 4-3 overtime loss.

Lightning coach Jon Cooper said this morning that a visitor faces many obstacles playing in Denver, including the high altitude, which he suggested was a factor in falling behind in Game 2.

“We just weren’t used to it,” Cooper said. “You can get away with it that early like Game 1, but I think it probably stunned us a bit in Game 2. Colorado, they’ve got a great crowd, the energy in the building is awesome, and they feed off that first five, 10 minutes and you really have to be engaged in the game, because then they start gaining momentum and unfortunately they scored early in these games.”

“That kind of put us on our heels,” Cooper added. “We had to chase the game a little bit. So to me that’s a pivotal part of tonight is making sure that we’re the ones trying to do some pushing here instead of them against us and not giving up those early goals, not giving up those early power plays and that should work well in our favor.”

Game 2 started off with Lightning defenseman Ryan McDonagh going to the penalty box for a roughing penalty just 61 seconds in and Colorado capitalizing on the power play on Valeri Nichushkin’s man-advantage goal.

On the injury front, Cooper said he was “pretty confident” that defenseman Erik Cernak will return to the Lightning lineup in Game 5, which would give Tampa Bay a boost after playing most of Game 4 with just five defensemen after Cernak’s exit five minutes into the second period.

Center Anthony Cirelli — who appeared to take a skate blade to his right arm or hand during the second period Wednesday and did not take faceoffs for the remainder of the game — is a game-time decision as is center Brayden Point, who did participate in the optional morning skate.

The Lightning knew going into this series that they’d have to steal at least one game on the road. But now they must find a way to win two games in Denver.

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Tampa Bay can draw on how it opened Game 4 at home — outshooting the Avalanche 17-4 in the first period while taking a 1-0 lead before losing 3-2 in overtime.

“They play well here,” Lightning forward Corey Perry said. “But at the same time, if we look at how we started last game, take something out of that game plan and bring it into tonight and I don’t see why we can’t have a start like that.”

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