TAMPA, Fla. (WFLA) — For the most part, Stanley Cup Playoff games are every other day, but in some cases, there is an extra day in-between games. That’s the case with the Lightning and Panthers’ series, with two days off between games two and three, ahead of a back-to-back in the series Sunday then Monday.
With the Bolts leading the series (2-0) after taking both in Sunrise, it’s back to Tampa for a 1:30 p.m. puck drop on Sunday, followed by a 7:00 p.m. puck drop on Monday.
“Having a 1:30 start is definitely better than having a night start, so you get a little bit more time between games,” said Lightning forward Alex Killorn. “To be honest, we’re not trying to focus too much on Monday. It’s more about tomorrow. Maybe the coaches [are] with the practice and stuff like that. They might be trying to figure that out, but for us it’s just about playing our best tomorrow and then we’ll deal with Monday when it comes.”
“The difference maybe is the early back-to-back—the fact that the first one is early,” said Lightning forward Pierre-Edouard Bellemare. “But I’ve been lucky enough to be on some teams where you play a lot of them. You have a routine and you just try to follow the routine.”
After a very physical game two, where several Lightning players suffered injuries after blocking shots– leaving the game and then returning to finish playing — an extra day of rest here could prove to be very timely. It’s an extra day to heal and gear up for the rest of the series, which should prove to increase even more in intensity.
“I don’t know,” said Head Coach Jon Cooper about the benefits of an extra rest day. “I guess we’ll see after the game how helpful that was. I’m pretty sure both teams could use a break because it’s tough playing back-to-back—even though one’s an afternoon game – it sneaks up on your fast. So it’s good to have a little break before that happens.”
One thing’s for sure though for the Lightning, catching their breath before game three doesn’t mean easing off the gas when it’s time to return to the ice — even if they do have the two-game lead. When they faced the Panthers last postseason in the first round, the Lightning also won the first two on the road before Florida took game three in Tampa in overtime. The Lightning went on to win that series in six games.
“I think it’s similar to the series we had last year,” Lightning forward Alex Killorn said. “Yeah, it’s the exact same situation. [The Panthers] came in [game] three and out-played us last year. We have to elevate our game. We know we’re going to get their best. They played pretty well last game. They’re going to be even better tomorrow so we have to be ready for that.”
“Our game has been far from perfect,” Cooper said. “We had a magical moment happen with 3.8 seconds left that gave us the game, but that could have easily gone to overtime and went the other way. We feel great obviously with where we are in this series but [if] we hang our hat on pulling that game out, it won’t work out for us. Every single game we have to get better and we have to elevate our game because we know Florida will — in which they did — going from game one to game two. Now we have to take that next step. Guys have done a hell of a job to put us where we are, but we’re far from done in this series.”
On the injury front, Cooper said he hopes Brandon Hagel will be okay for Sunday, while Brayden Point will be out for a third-straight game. Cooper said Point’s probably the only Bolts player definitely out for game three.
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