The Tampa Bay Lightning felt a little like a lion that was clamped down hard on a rival’s throat, waiting for the kicking to stop, only to let it break away and live to fight another day.
They had a 2-0 series lead on the New York Islanders and just stormed back from 3-1 down in the third period of Game 3 Friday. Ride their momentum for one more goal and the Eastern Conference Final was theirs.
Instead, the 3-0 series lead they had between their teeth is now 2-1, and that rival of theirs has developed its own taste for blood.
“The reason we won is probably because of the mindset in Game 2,” said Islanders head coach Barry Trotz, who can feel his team gaining strength by the day. “Game 1, the way the schedule worked out, with us playing Game 7 and travelling (from Toronto to Edmonton and playing the next day), I didn’t think it was a fair reflection of what we were capable of. Game 2 was more of that. It gave us the confidence that we could win Game 3.”
Now that they did, the Islanders are on the verge of doing what Trotz predicted they’d do after that heartbreaking last-second loss in Game 2: Flip the series.
“We’ve gotten within a game of getting the series tied up,” he said during Saturday’s video media conference. “That’s going to give us a little bit of a boost.
“But, Tampa Bay has been here before, they have a veteran team. They’ll get Alex Killorn back (from suspension) and maybe Brayden Point (injured for Game 3). We’re going to get their best game and we have to have ours. We’re in a position to get it to a best of three and they’re going to do everything to prevent us from doing that.”
Count on it. As much as the Lightning know they missed out on a potential stranglehold, their predatory instincts are still as sharp as ever. In case anyone is wondering, no, they’re not starting to worry.
“There’s a really quiet confidence about our group,” said head coach Jon Cooper, adding the Lightning rarely let emotion into the equation. “After we won (Game 1) 8-2, guys weren’t jumping around hugging each other. Everybody just knows their job and our game plan. When we stray from it, there’s a chance for disaster to strike like it did last game.
“But I like the resolve. I like the confidence in our room. A lot of times you wouldn’t be able to tell the difference if we won or lost. These guys know the task at hand. They know what’s ahead of them and I like that.”
HURT SO GOOD
As the playoffs go on, teams continue to ramp up the physicality. The Islanders and Lightning combined for 106 hits in Game 3, with much of the attention focused on the opponent’s top players.
“That’s kind of the style we like to play,” said Islanders defenceman Ryan Pulock. “We like to continue to invest, play hard and physical. It doesn’t matter who you are, if you’re getting hit every shift it wears on you.
“That’s part of our goal. Some of our success in the playoffs this year has come from wearing teams down. That’s something we’re going to continue to do and hopefully it helps down the road.”
In a normal playoff year, teams are flying back and forth between cities and playing to hostile crowds half the time. In the Hub format, they’re locked in a bubble, playing a compressed schedule and never see the benefit of home ice.
Which is tougher?
“I would say (the bubble) is a bit easier, to be honest with you,” said Tampa forward Patrick Maroon. “You have everything in one setting. Normally you’d be getting back on a plane and trucking two and half or three hours from Long Island to Tampa knowing you have to play the next day. It gets exhausting after a while.
“Here you can wake up, walk to the rink, come back and do your daily routine. Obviously it’s not the setting we want to be a part of, but it’s been going well so far.”
Vegas coach Pete DeBoer says it’s no accident his team had a whopping 14-5 power play edge through the first three games of their series with Dallas. Vegas spent 21:00 minutes with the man advantage through the first three games, compared with 6:34 for Dallas.
“We’re playing the most penalized team in the playoffs and we’ve got the puck, so I expect the penalties to be in our favour,” he said. “We’ve earned that by the way we’re playing.
“In the Vancouver series we stepped over the line a few times and were on the wrong end of it and we learned from it.”
HE SAID IT — “Schenner makes us an inch taller on the bench. He’s big, he’s physical and against teams that have a little bite, like the Islanders do, guys like Schenner keep them in check. You don’t see too many of their guys lined up to get anywhere close to Schenn.” — Cooper on defenceman Luke Schenn.
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