The Tampa Bay Lightning are hoping to put a poor performance behind them and close out their Stanley Cup First Round when they host the Florida Panthers in Game 6 at Amalie Arena on Wednesday (8 p.m. ET; CNBC, SN360, TVAS, BSSUN, BSFL).
The Lightning felt they were not competitive enough in a 4-1 loss in Game 5 at the Panthers on Monday when they had a chance to win the best-of-7 series, and said their response will be telling for how serious the defending Stanley Cup champions are about going on another long run.
“We’ve addressed that today,” defenseman Victor Hedman said. “We’ve got to be much hungrier. We are playing a great team that was on the brink of elimination and they played like it, and we didn’t match that.”
Tampa Bay, which leads the series, 3-2, is hoping to move one step closer to winning the Stanley Cup in consecutive seasons like the Pittsburgh Penguins did in 2016 and 2017. They were the first team to do so since the Detroit Red Wings in 1997 and 1998.
“My experience with the team is I have complete and utter confidence that they can close this series out,” Lightning coach Jon Cooper said. “Whether you’re going to do it or not we can’t sit here and say, but do I believe we can? One-hundred percent and that’s what experience has taught me. The difference is, do you want to be just like every other team and win one and be done, or do you want to become special and do it again? There’s a reason teams haven’t done that. Pittsburgh was special.”
The Lightning believe they can accomplish the feat, but not if they play 60 minutes the way they did Monday.
“That wasn’t our best game, especially in the battle way,” defenseman Erik Cernak said. “We lost a lot of battles. That usually doesn’t happen to us.”
Tampa Bay will need to limit its penalties. The Lightning were guilty of three minor penalties in a span of 7:43 in the first period after forward Ross Colton scored 53 seconds into the game to give them a 1-0 lead. They killed them all off, but it hurt the momentum they were hoping to gain from the early goal.
The Panthers scored twice in the second period to take a 2-1 lead, and made it 3-1 with a power-play goal from Patric Hornqvist 35 seconds into the third period, with Lightning defenseman Luke Schenn in the box for holding Anthony Duclair.
“We play this game 5-on-5, we’re fine with it, but you just can’t keep giving teams the power plays we’re giving them,” Cooper said. “You’re basically giving them one goal a game if you’re going to give them that many power plays, but it’s the momentum shifts and the guys that don’t get on the ice that you want on the ice. We have to do a better job with that.”
Each team has scored 10 goals at 5-on-5, but the Panthers have a 54.8-45.2 advantage in shot attempts percentage (SAT) and a plus-18 edge in shots on goal at 5-on-5 (144-126).
Tampa Bay scored three power play goals in Game 1, a 5-4 win. They scored two in Game 3, a 6-5 overtime loss, and two in Game 4, a 6-2 win, and are hoping to be better at 5-on-5.
“We’ve got to play with a little bit more pace,” Hedman said. “I think we can do a better job of moving the puck quicker and getting in on the forecheck. That’s when we’re at our best, when we hound pucks down and retrieve in the offensive zone and go to work in there.”
That likely will come down to outworking their opposition, the biggest area of improvement the Lightning are seeking in Game 6.
“There’s a little onus on the player,” Cooper said. “They don’t need the coach for that.”