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Thursday, May 24, 2018
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Streaking Lightning looking to avoid trap

TAMPA — In the past five games during a seasonlong seven-game homestand, the Lightning faced the four teams that won the past five Stanley Cup championships.

They came out of the tough stretch with three wins.

During that stretch, which also included a victory against Minnesota, Tampa Bay knocked off Chicago (2010 and 2013 champ) and Los Angeles (2012) while dropping a last-minute decision to Pittsburgh (2009) and a blowout loss to Boston (2011).

All things considered, as the Lightning conclude their lengthy homestand tonight against Buffalo, they feel good about their play — as well as the results — during a difficult two weeks.

“We have a good feeling, but we are not satisfied with that,’’ Lightning center Steven Stamkos said. “We’ve been saying the last couple of years against those teams we’ve had tight games or one-goal losses that, ‘Hey, it’s nice to stick around with those guys.’ But that saying gets old quick and you have to find a way to beat them.’’

Through the first nine games of the season, Tampa Bay has earned 12 of a possible 18 points with a 6-3 record. Things have not exactly gone perfectly. But as Lightning head coach Jon Cooper continues to instill in players the way he wants them to play, the team is picking up points.

“We are really happy with what has gone on so far and we sit here 6-3 after nine (games); we’ll take that all day,’’ Cooper said. “But as we talk to the guys, we can’t just rest on this.’’

Looking at the upcoming schedule, the next challenge is to avoid a potential trap.

In the past five games, the combined record of Tampa Bay’s opponents heading into Friday’s action was 32-12-6. The combined record of the Lightning’s next four opponents — Buffalo, Florida, New Jersey and Carolina — was 9-23-9.

While competing against the top teams proved the process is moving in the right direction, a peek at the standings heading into this weekend, with back-to-back games against Buffalo and Florida, lends itself to a natural letdown.

“That’s the thing in this league, you have to be ready to go every night,’’ defenseman Matt Carle said. “I think it’s more or less about focusing on the way we want to play and how we want to play and not who we are playing against.

“It’s easy to get up for those games where you are playing against teams that won a Stanley Cup or were in the Stanley Cup finals, so this is going to be a good test for us to be consistent.’’

Under the league’s new alignment that brings back a divisional playoff format, this weekend’s games against divisional opponents Buffalo and Florida might provide enough motivation to ensure Tampa Bay maintains the same level of play on display the past two weeks.

“We consider ourselves a good team, so you have to beat the teams that are fighting for the playoffs with you,’’ Stamkos said. “So, this is an important test for us. You can’t be too high and you can’t be too low.’’

Finding that consistency starts by playing with a consistent effort night in and night out, regardless of the opponent on the other side of the ice.

“We’ve seen you can’t just throw your sticks in the middle and win a hockey game,’’ Cooper said. “You never know what is going to happen in the game. We just have to bring a consistent effort every single night and, for the most part, we have.

“But that is our focus. It doesn’t matter who we are playing — do what we do best, play as hard as you can and let’s see where the chips fall.’’


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