The Tampa Bay Lightning have been in this situation before.
Almost a year ago exactly, in fact.
The Lightning will try to take a 3-0 series lead against the Florida Panthers for the second straight postseason when they meet on Sunday afternoon in their Eastern Conference semifinal set in Tampa.
The Lightning were unsuccessful in their bid for a 3-0 lead in last season’s first-round series, however Tampa Bay went on to eliminate the Panthers in six games.
The Lightning seized a 2-0 lead in their current series this week by posting a 4-1 win on Tuesday and a 2-1 victory two nights later. Both games were in Sunrise, Fla.
“We’re two games closer to where we want to be, but we’re not there yet,” Tampa Bay coach Jon Cooper said. “I told you this last time in the last series, and I’m going to tell you again, (Thursday) night was just one game. We’re here to win a series.”
The loss on Thursday was particularly painful for Florida because Ross Colton scored with 3.8 seconds remaining in the third period to lift Tampa Bay to the win.
The Panthers have been down in these playoffs before, losing two of the first three games in the first round against the Washington Capitals before pulling off three straight victories.
“Everybody understands that next game is big,” Florida goaltender Sergei Bobrovsky said. “We can make a difference in the future, not in the past, and that’s it, so we have to stay together again and keep working.”
The high-octane Panthers have struggled to ignite their offense to start this series.
Florida interim coach Andrew Brunette shook up his team’s third and fourth lines during practice on Saturday, but the Panthers could really benefit from a resurgence from Jonathan Huberdeau and Sam Reinhart.
Huberdeau led the NHL with 85 assists during the regular season, while his 115 points trailed only Edmonton Oilers superstar captain Connor McDavid. Huberdeau, however, has been limited to three assists and four points in eight playoff games.
Reinhart had 33 goals and 49 assists during the regular season, but has just two and one, respectively, in eight playoff games.
The Panthers also will be without one of their more productive offensive players during the regular season.
Mason Marchment is expected to miss his fifth consecutive game with a lower-body injury. He had 47 points (18 goals, 29 assists) in 54 games during the regular season.
Brunette isn’t as concerned about the production from certain personnel as he is with the result.
“Just win one,” Brunette said. “That’s the mindset. All you can worry about is one game. It’s a great opportunity to go on the road, maybe relax a little bit and play hockey.”
After playing just 47 games during the regular season, Nikita Kucherov has stepped up to lead the Lightning with 11 points (three goals, eight assists) in nine playoff games. He led Tampa Bay in scoring in each of the past two postseasons.
Fellow former Hart Trophy recipient Corey Perry has two goals and an assist in the first two games against Florida.
Colton has also scored in both games to give him a team-leading five goals in the playoffs.
“Guys are stepping up, whether it’s an amazing penalty kill at the end, blocked shots, taking a hit to make a play,” Tampa Bay captain Steven Stamkos said. “Guys are willing to do that and it’s a great trait to have as a team.”
–Field Level Media