TAMPA — The three-day holiday break allowed for time away from the rink to spend with friends and family.
But instead of sitting back in a recliner munching on pretzels and chocolate-chip cookies, the three-day break included some active rest in order to avoid the potential for rust to set in with the extended time away from the ice.
For Tampa Bay Lightning forward Nate Thompson, that meant in addition to kicking up his feet, he spent time shoveling snow in Minnesota and getting out on the sledding slopes.
“I got a pretty good sweat out of that,” Thompson said. “You want to make sure you get your rest, that’s important, maybe a couple of days you want to rest and relax ... but you have to move around a little bit so you are not just sitting there and not moving any muscles.”
The Lightning look to shake off any rust that may have occurred during the mini-break tonight when they host the Montreal Canadiens, a team that has not played since Dec. 21 and had five days off.
Though three days off the ice is an extended time for any team, Lightning coach Jon Cooper said there is no real concern the team will be stale, and he expects the team to pick up right where it left off, entering the break with five consecutive victories.
“Everybody is in the same boat, and actually I think it’s good for everybody and the games will be good,” Cooper said. “And these guys are in way too good of shape that three days isn’t going to take them down. And we had a pretty good skate (Friday) and they were fine, and I think they actually looked pretty good. The game (tonight) should be played at a pretty fast pace.”
The Canadiens come to town for their first visit this season sitting two points behind second-place Tampa Bay in the Atlantic Division standings.
It may be too early to start talking about a potential playoff matchup — the teams would face off in the first round if the season ended today — or trying to send any sort of message to the opposing team, but somewhere in the background is the fact this is a division game between teams separated by only two points in the standings.
“We’d all be naive not to look and know that we are pretty close in the standings,” Cooper said. “For me, beating a divisional opponent is the ‘four-point game,’ but with the way the schedule is, everybody plays everybody, and gone are the eight games against your division. Are they important points? Yes, they are, but it’s just a matter for us of getting points. We have to keep point munching.
“We can’t sit here and it’s Montreal and it’s more important to win than (Sunday’s) game. It’s really not. You want to win them both, and Montreal is the next opponent, so that’s who we are focusing on.”
Part of Tampa Bay’s success in the first half of the season has been the ability to not look beyond the task directly in front of them. The focus is on who is up next on the schedule and who’s going to be in the lineup to try to help the team pick up a victory. That is what is most important heading into the first game coming out of the three-day break.
“You just take it a day at a time,” defenseman Matt Carle said. “We were going pretty good before the break, and we hope to keep some of the same swagger we had, because guys are feeling pretty good in here because of the way things are going. ... You just want get out and have a good start off the break.”