With a 3-1 lead on the series, the Tampa Bay Lightning are exactly where they want to be. Come Thursday evening, they will have an opportunity to advance to round two of the Stanley Cup Playoffs. With home ice advantage and a 3-1 lead, the Lightning will aim to buy themselves some downtime, but it won’t come without a fight from the Detroit Red Wings who captured their only win of the series on Sunday with a 2-0 win on home ice.
Of course the Lightning are looking for a win, closing out the series early, to allow their players a few days extra rest, a luxury any team would appreciate during a playoff run.
“You get so wrapped up in the playoff series, to have the opportunity to end it in 5 games just gives you rest — everybody gets to regroup and reload for the next round, instead of the continuing grind and having to jump into a new series,” said Head Coach Jon Cooper. “We weathered it last year, by the end of the Stanley Cup Finals you’re just drained. We have the opportunity and it is in our hands to make this happen. We know what the Red Wings are capable of doing, and we saw that in Game 3. We have to be prepared that they’ll come out the same way in Game 5.”
Thus far, the team has found success across the bench, but it has been the outstanding play between the pipes of Ben Bishop that gives the Bolts continued confidence. A product of the University of Maine, the 29-year-old goaltender has proven his worth the last few seasons in Tampa, becoming a role model to teammates and a driving force to rely on.
“Bishop has been great for us, he gives us a sort of confidence as a leader on the team,” said Lightnings’ Alex Killorn. “He’s very reliable, you know that he’s going to show up – if you do your end, things are going to turn out well. Bish has been huge for us this season and playoffs, and I think he’s going to be an MVP for us.”
Those sentiments run deep through the coaching staff and Bishop’s teammates, and if the Lightning advance, a legion of NHL fans will see what all the fuss is about.
“Its not until you get to the playoffs that everyone gets to see Bish[op] play. If we hopefully get to keep moving on, there will be more appreciation for Bish. There’s no way it’s going to go unnoticed.” — Coach Cooper
Backed into a corner, it will be an uphill battle for the Red Wings on Thursday night, and a key to avoiding elimination will be figuring out a way past their oppositions penalty kill. A team that is currently sitting on a PK of 95.2% during the 2015-16 Stanley Cup Playoffs, and 84% during the regular season — it is safe to say that Tampa Bay has their PK somewhat figured out.
“Guys are sticking to structure and sticking together out there,” said Lightnings’ Andrej Sustr. “It’s a big part of a team’s success to have a good PK.”
The Lighting will look to use their continued PK success and close out the series tomorrow night at 7 pm. If the Red Wings manage to hang on, they’ll force a Game 6 which is still TBD.