TAMPA, Fla. (AP) — More than a week off between playoff games can seem like an eternity for any team.
The two-time defending Stanley Cup champions are hoping the extended break they earned with a second-round sweep of the Florida Panthers will benefit them in their quest for a three-peat.
By the time they open the Eastern Conference final Wednesday night against either the Carolina Hurricanes or New York Rangers, the Lightning will not have played since May 23.
The Hurricanes and Rangers play Game 7 of their second-round series Monday night, with the winner hosting the first two games of the conference final.
“People always ask is it better to have time off or not,” coach Jon Cooper said. “I guess the true answer comes depending on the next series, and how you play.”
The defending champs, in the East final for the sixth time in eight years, feel they have the leadership and experience to handle the team’s longest layoff between postseason games in more than a decade.
“You’re not really expecting this much time off at this time of year. You look at the positives,” captain Steven Stamkos said. “Guys can get some rest and recover and hopefully get as healthy as we can before we start the next round.”
The Lightning have won six straight games, moving from the brink of elimination against Toronto in the first round to another appearance in the conference final.
More than a week off invites the prospect of players falling out of synch because of an interruption to the team’s regular routine.
Cooper, however, stressed that regardless of what happens, the Lightning needed time to rest and allow injured players a chance to get healthier.
“We’ve gone through a couple of wars here in our series, so it’s pivotal for us to have this break now,” Cooper said.
“The downside of it is no matter what you do in practice, you’re not ever going to come close to emulating what goes on in a playoff game. So, you lose that,” Cooper added. “You just hope don’t lose your edge. We’ve got enough of a veteran group, we should be able to get through that.”
This hiatus is the longest the Lightning have had between playoff series since they got nine days off following a second-round sweep of the Washington Capitals in 2011.
That time, Tampa Bay wound up losing the next series to Boston in seven games.
“We’re professional enough to know what to expect come (Wednesday). We’re excited about that opportunity,” defenseman Victor Hedman said. “We are ready to get back into the game action, obviously, but you’re not going to say no if you get a couple of extra days off for having won four straight (against Florida).”
Going back to the start of the 2020 postseason, Tampa Bay has won 10 consecutive playoff series. In addition to chasing a third consecutive trip to the Stanley Cup Final, they are trying to become the first team to win three straight titles since the New York Islanders won four in a row from 1980-83.
“We know what it takes, we know how hard it is to get where we are right now,” said forward Pat Maroon, who won the Cup with St. Louis in 2019 before joining the Lightning for their championship run two years ago.
“No matter who we’re going to play,” Maroon added, looking ahead to facing the Hurricanes or Rangers next, “they’re both really good teams.”
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Fred Goodall, The Associated Press