UNIONDALE, N.Y. — The Tampa Bay Lightning have won four straight road games scoring eight goals.
They’ve allowed three.
“It’s not how many you put in the net, it’s how many you keep out,” Lightning coach Jon Cooper said after a 2-1 win against the New York Islanders in Game 3 of the Stanley Cup Semifinals at Nassau Coliseum on Thursday. “That’s something we had to learn along the way. If you can hold a team to one goal, you’re giving yourself a chance to win the game. We did.”
The Lightning are 6-1 on the road in the Stanley Cup Playoffs and took the lead in the best-of-7 series. Game 4 is here Saturday (8 p.m. ET; USA, CBC, SN, TVAS).
“It just goes to show the maturity of the group that we have,” Tampa Bay captain Steven Stamkos said. “Especially it feels like every round we’ve gone, [in] Florida the fans were great, pumped up in Carolina, here an unbelievable atmosphere. We just kind of rise to the occasion.”
The Lightning won Games 1 and 2 on the road against the Florida Panthers in the first round in different ways; a wild 5-4 come-from-behind win was followed by a lock-it-down 3-1 win. They lost Game 5 at Florida 4-1.
The defending Stanley Cup champions haven’t trailed in any road game since and led going into the third period in all four.
“It helps getting the lead, something that we wanted to do,” Cooper said. “But I think part of it too is we’ve been down this road before and guys when you need them in big moments they’re showing up. They’ve found a way and they’ve learned over the years, kind of that get-the-lead, extend-the-lead, protect-the-lead mantra. It’s been working.”
The Lightning had back-to-back 2-1 wins at the Carolina Hurricanes in Games 1 and 2 of the second round. Tampa Bay won the series in Game 5 with a 2-0 road win.
On Thursday, Yanni Gourde made it 1-0 at 10:05 of the first period. New York tied it 1-1 on Cal Clutterbuck‘s goal at 17:01 of the second, but Brayden Point extended his goal streak to six games when he put Tampa Bay in front 2-1 at 19:40.
“That was a big goal for us at the end to restore that lead,” Stamkos said. “We shut it down from there.”
Cooper said he was worried early in the third period because he thought the Lightning were sitting back too much, but they didn’t get burned. He called the way they played in the final five minutes “clinical.”
The Islanders’ final shot on goal came with 5:49 remaining. They managed four shot attempts the rest of the way, one after goalie Semyon Varlamov was pulled for an extra skater with 1:49 left.
The Lightning had three shots on goal and eight shot attempts in the final 5:49.
“It’s everyone buying into the system,” Stamkos said. “We know what our job is. We talk about in between the second and third. We have a one-goal lead going into the third period of a playoff game, we know what we have to do and we’ve done it time and time again. It’s great to see, but this group is comfortable in these situations. It’s the semifinals, this time of the year it’s guys doing whatever it takes to win. That’s the most important thing. When you have a complete buy-in, you get results like we’re getting right now.”
The Lightning won the Stanley Cup playing at neutral sites last season, so road games weren’t part of the process. But in 2019, when they were swept in the Eastern Conference First Round by the Columbus Blue Jackets, they lost the road games 3-1 and 7-3.
It was a hard lesson after the Lightning had success on the road reaching the Stanley Cup Final in 2015 and the conference final in 2016 and 2018. They were 18-10 on the road but were eliminated in 2015 and 2016 with road losses and failed to reach the Cup Final in 2018 when they lost Game 6 at the Washington Capitals before losing Game 7 at home.
“They’ve found a recipe,” Cooper said. “It took us some time. There’s ups and downs. Prior to 2020 everybody witnessed them. There is a true belief of what needs to be done. There is a recipe to it, and when they adhere to the plan, the players have to execute it and those are the guys that go out there and do it. They understand there is a process to everything. It’s process over outcome, and if you stick with it good things will usually happen, and they’ve done that.”