It’s not a do-or-die game yet, but it’s about as close as you can get.
The Tampa Bay Lightning enter Game 3 of the Stanley Cup Final trailing the Colorado Avalanche 2-0 and hoping to get back on track with their first home game of the series.
“We’re not in a do-or-die situation right now, but let’s just go out there and find our best game right now,” said Bolts forward Pat Maroon. “They haven’t seen our best.
“We’re excited. Hopefully we can show them our best tonight.”
Through two games, the Lightning haven’t looked like themselves. The defensive zone breakouts have been a struggle. The turnovers have crept back into their game. They haven’t generated much sustained zone time in Colorado’s end.
But they’ve been here before.
In the Eastern Conference Final, Tampa Bay lost the first two games of the series on the road before storming back and winning four straight games over the New York Rangers to advance to the Stanley Cup Final.
With that being said, that series was different. Roughly halfway through Game 2 against New York, the Bolts started to find their game. In Game 2 against the Avalanche, the Lightning never found their game.
Tampa Bay recorded just 25 shot attempts and only 16 shots on goal, while Colorado fired off 50 shot attempts, 30 of which were on goal. The Bolts fell 7-0 in one of the most forgettable playoff games in recent memory, if not ever, for this group.
But, at the end of the day, everything can change with a win in Game 3. The Lightning enter tonight’s contest on a franchise-best seven-game winning streak at home in the playoffs. Vasilevskiy has started all of those games and the seven consecutive home playoff wins is a career high.
The Bolts are a better team at home and they’ll need the support of their crowd more than ever tonight.
“It’s always good to be home,” said Lightning head coach Jon Cooper. “The one thing I tell our guys is, ‘Just because we’re walking into AMALIE Arena, that does not guarantee we’re going to win a hockey game.’
“You still have to play the game as if nobody was in the crowd.”
For Tampa Bay, staying out of the penalty box should be a huge point of emphasis heading into Game 3. The Lightning went to the penalty kill early in Game 2 and, after giving up a power-play goal, they were forced to chase the whole game.
The 5-on-3 goal that Colorado scored in Game 1 proved to be a huge goal. Although the penalty on Anthony Cirelli was a questionable call, the Bolts were still on the penalty kill to begin with. Discipline is key in the postseason, especially with the power play that the Avalanche have.
Most importantly, the Lightning need to find their game. As previously mentioned, the Bolts just haven’t looked like themselves in the first two games of this series. After six long days in Colorado, the Bolts returned home on Sunday and the players could enjoy a night of sleeping in their own beds, eating a home-cooked meal, and now, playing in front of their home fans.
“There’s a reason the home team wins more games than they lose, but it’s no guarantee,” said Cooper. “Our fans have been great. We’ve had success in this building.
“Hopefully we draw some energy from the crowd and maybe that helps our start tonight.”
Tampa Bay has seen virtually every scenario over the past several years in the postseason. That experience will have to be used to get back in this series, but it can only go so far. It comes down to going out onto the ice and executing.
“We’ve been in these spots before,” Cooper said. “You’ve got to draw on some of your experience, but not use that as a crutch saying, ‘Just because we’ve had that experience, we’re going to win or we’re going to have success.’
“Draw on it for the mental aspect of the game. Now, you have to actually go and perform.”
The Avalanche are a very fast team. Tampa Bay needs to make them work for their ice and go the entire 200 feet of the rink to gain opportunities.
Once Colorado gets going downhill out of their own zone, look out. It’s imperative that the Bolts get pucks deep, forecheck hard, sustain some zone time, and make the Avalanche work for their chances.
We saw it again last game. Too many odd-man rushes, breakaways, and Grade-A chances.
Game 2 was ugly, but in the playoffs, it’s all about turning the page.
“We can’t rely on the past,” said Maroon. “We’ve got to focus on what we can control. That’s Game 3 and how we respond.
“We have a good veteran group in the locker room that knows how to play the right way and understands where we’re at and what situation we’re at.”
One other thing the Lightning need to focus on come Monday night is shot volume. There have not been nearly enough pucks thrown at Darcy Kuemper. The Lightning have an advantage in between the pipes and need to take advantage of it by getting more shots on net.
The Bolts could be without Brayden Point tonight after Jon Cooper labeled him a game-time decision on Monday morning. Point returned to the lineup in Game 1 for the first time since suffering a lower-body injury in Game 7 of the First Round.
He was not at morning skate for the Lightning.
You have to give credit to Colorado. They’ve done a great job shutting Tampa Bay down to this point. That can all change tonight.
It just takes one win to get back in the series.
What better place to do it than home ice?
Adjustments need to be made and execution needs to improve, but I expect tonight to be the best game of the series for the Lightning thus far.