TAMPA, Fla. (AP) — Hold the pep talks, motivational ploys and all the statistics that support Tampa Bay feeling good about its chances of closing out Montreal in the second round of the NHL playoffs.
The resilient Canadiens have won two straight to trim a 3-0 deficit to 3-2 in the best-of-7 series. And the suddenly reeling Lightning said it is time to match the opposition’s desperation and finish the job.
Game 6 is tonight at Amalie Arena, where Tampa Bay compiled the league’s best home record during the regular season. Game 7, if necessary, would be played in Montreal on Thursday.
“We just have to have the belief that if we play the way we know we can that we’re going to win,” Lightning captain Steven Stamkos said after practice Monday.
“Just don’t play scared,” Stamkos added. “Don’t be afraid to lose.”
The Canadiens have won five of their past six games when facing elimination and reject the notion that there’s more pressure on them to even the series than Tampa Bay to end it and avoid having to get back on a plane and play Game 7 on the road.
The Lightning will play without right wing Ryan Callahan, who underwent an emergency appendectomy Monday night. His return to the ice is undermined, the team said.
“For sure, they’ve got more pressure. We’ve been there,” Montreal coach Michel Therrien said, noting his team built a 3-0 lead over Ottawa in the first round, then dropped Games 4 and 5 before finishing off the Senators in six games.
“You get a three-game lead, and you’ve got pressure to close. The more it goes, the more they feel that pressure,” Therrien added. “The fourth one is the toughest one because you’re meeting a team that is really desperate.”
The Canadiens are trying to become the fifth team in NHL history to overcome a 3-0 deficit to win a postseason series.
They won Game 4 in Tampa, then took Game 5 at home to stave off elimination again and bring the Eastern Conference semifinal matchup back to Florida.
“We feel good about playing these type of games,” Therrien said. “You look at our record the last two years when we’ve had our backs against the wall. It’s almost like it’s where we perform the best. (Tuesday) for us won’t be any different.”
The Lightning have shown an ability to overcome adversity, too. They trailed Detroit 3-2 in the opening round, won Game 6 on the road and returned home to beat the Red Wings in Game 7.
And there’s reason to be confident, too, they can complete the job against the Canadiens, considering Tampa Bay’s history of success against Montreal goaltender Carey Price, a finalist for league MVP.
The Lightning went 5-0 against Montreal during the regular season before winning the first three games of this series for an eight-game winning streak over Price.
The Canadiens’ goalie has been outstanding in helping his team get back in the series, however Tampa Bay expects to create plenty of scoring opportunities.
“It’s not just one guy who’s going to be able to carry a team, but he’s been kind of an X-factor for them for a number of years, and they have a lot of confidence in him,” Tampa Bay coach Jon Cooper said.
“For us, we’ve had success against Carey Price. He to us is not a mental block because we’ve played them so many times in the last couple of years, and we look back and his numbers against the Tampa Bay Lightning are very pedestrian compared to the rest of the teams,” Cooper added. “Now that doesn’t mean he’s any less of a goaltender. We’ve just found a way to have some success.”
A closer look at the only game on the NHL playoff schedule tonight:
Canadiens at Lightning, Tampa Bay leads series 3-2, 7:30 p.m., NBC Sports Network
BACK TO FORM
Tampa Bay doesn’t feel it has played very well since a 6-2 road victory in Game 2. They won Game 3 on Tyler Johnson’s goal with 1.1 seconds remaining, were blown out 6-2 at home in Game 4 and were not happy with the way they performed before the third period of a 2-1 loss in Game 5 on Saturday. Forward Brenden Morrow said the “law of averages” are that the team’s “A” game will resurface soon, hopefully Tuesday.
“We still believe our team’s best hockey matches up against team’s best hockey. You have to find a way to muster it up,” Morrow said. “Hopefully this little bit of adversity, and somewhat desperation now, is going to bring that out of us.”
Tampa Bay had the NHL’s best home record during the regular season, but has already lost three times at Amalie Arena in the playoffs. The Canadians won Game 4 here and say home-ice advantage can be overrated at this time of year.
“Sometimes you look too much at the benefits of having one or the other,” forward Max Pacioretty said, adding his team has to concentrate on playing well, not potentially having an edge if the Canadiens can take the series back to Montreal for Game 7.
Any mistake, Pacioretty added, could wind up being the difference in keeping the season alive.
“One bad shift and we’re out of this series,” Pacioretty said. “It’s great to have the energy, it’s great to have some momentum and some confidence, but at the end of the day we make one mistake and our season’s over. So we’ve got to make sure we stay focused and have the right mentality.”
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