RALEIGH, N.C. — The last time the Lightning played the Hurricanes three weeks ago, they were completely shut down. They struggled to manufacture anything offensively and went the entire second period without a shot on goal in a humbling 6-0 loss.
They arrived in Raleigh feeling better about their game. Even though they lost 2-1 Saturday in Boston, they showed renewed physicality against the Bruins, something they’ll need if they plan to make another deep postseason run.
After playing the team with the best record in the NHL in Boston (119 points), they’re facing the second-best tonight in Carolina (103).
“We had a good game there in Boston,” said Lightning forward Pat Maroon. “We know what Carolina did to us last time, so we’ve just got to find a way to do a better job.”
Right now, the focus in the Lightning locker room seems to have less to do with their opponent than forming their own identity for the playoffs. Motivated by a team meeting the day before the Bruins game in which they watched videos of the physical play that sent them to three straight Stanley Cup finals, the Lightning brought grit to the game, something they had lacked recently.
“We can’t just have a one-and-done situation like that,” said Maroon, who started a fight with the Bruins’ Garnet Hathaway at the opening puck-drop. “We’ve got to continue that. I think that’s what we’ve been missing in our game. But I don’t think it’s about fighting. I think it’s about jam, puck battles and winning and having that urgency. I think we did a good job with that (in Boston). And hopefully we can continue that (in Carolina).”
Picking up points would be nice, too. The Lightning are on the verge of their second five-game losing streak in the past five weeks. Three weeks ago, they had a chance to take second place in the Atlantic Divsion from the Maple Leafs. Now, with 90 points, they’re closer to the first wild-card spot —the Islanders entered Tuesday night with 85 points — than the Leafs, which had 97.
“We haven’t been playing our best, and we’ve been lucky enough teams have been losing right now,” Maroon said. “So, we’ve got to find ways to win hockey games down the stretch here and put us in a good spot for a good playoff. So I think that mentality, too, is just like, ‘Listen, it’s a do-or-die situation right now. Let’s go out there and do it.’”
The Lightning held an optional skate this morning in Raleigh, but big names such as Steven Stamkos, Nikita Kucherov and Mikhail Sergachev all took the ice at PNC Arena. Judging by the workload backup Brian Elliott saw during the skate, expect Andrei Vasilevskiy to start in goal against the Hurricanes.
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