Would you rather have the edge?
Or would you rather be on the ledge?
Who has the better position here? The Tampa Bay Lightning, which is still only one win from closing out the surging Canadiens? Or the Montreal Canadiens, who seem to have found all the momentum in the desperation of being so close to elimination?
The Lightning, which is at home?
Or the Canadiens, who have Carey Price?
The Lightning, who have repeated all year that good team don’t lose three in a row.
Or the Canadiens, who are one step away from winning their third in a row?
You can debate it all you wish. The truth of it is that it will be settled on the ice on Tuesday at Amalie Arena. The Lightning will try to stop their slide. The Canadiens will try to pull even. One team will go home to Canada, or the other will have to visit to play one more game. Simple as that.
For all of its struggles, the Lightning still leads Montreal 3-2 in their best-of-seven series.
So who has the advantage?
“I think the team with the series edge, obviously,” said Lightning forward Brendan Morrow. “The law of averages are going to come out. We haven’t had our best stuff. I think our best hockey matches up pretty well against any teams’ best hockey. This adversity and desperation will bring that out of us.”
Teammate Victor Hedman, obviously biased, agreed. He’d rather be in the Lightning’s position.
“Well, we’re up 3-2,” Hedman said. “i’d rather take that. Losing two straight, I don’t think it matters. It’s a new game come Tuesday. I’m excited by the position we’re in. I like our chances.”
Are they whistling through a graveyard? Perhaps.
So how does the Lightning get it back? How does it return to being the team that beat Montreal eight straight times this season? How does it get back to being bulletproof at home (30 wins this year)? How does it stop the slide?
It starts, Lightning coach Jon Cooper said, with taking better care of the puck.
Throughout the series, the Lightning has been a bit fumble-fisted, turning things over against Montreal’s strong defense repeatedly.
“It’s a matter of execution,” Cooper said. “I think our Achilles has been turnovers. Puck management hasn’t been as good as we want. (Saturday) night, we turned it over twice, and both times, it ended up in our net.
“I don’t think there is any more pressure on us. There is pressure in the playoffs, in Game One against Detroit, in Game Six against Detroit, in Game Seven. It’s a race to four, and it doesn’t matter how you get there. If it goes to seven games and we win it 4-3, no one is going to say “Well, you were up 3-0.” You’re just going to win it in four.
“There is a lot of hockey to be played. There are six or seven teams left, and we’re one of them. So embrace this moment, this challenge. Lay it all on the line and have fun with it.”
Granted, it hasn’t been as much fun at home lately. The Lighting has gone from the league’s most dominant team to a .500 team at Amalie Arena.
Relax, Cooper said.
“We’ve played at home a little different,” Cooper said. “We’re people-pleasers. You want to do things that please the crowd, do this extra move or extra something you have in your head. I think you’re almost trying too hard to win at home. Let’s take a breath. Have fun with it. Embrace the crowd and suck up their energy, but not to the point you’re trying to put on a show for them. We’ve got to loosen up a little. At times, we’ve played too tight. We have to feed off their energy to drive us instead of making us uptight.”
Do the playoffs agree with the Lightning? At its best, Tampa Bay is a free-wheeling offensive force that can outshoot teams in a 6-5 win. But in the post-season, the goals dry up and 6-5 games become 2-1.
“My theory is that for 82 games, everyone is trying to score,” Cooper said. “As soon as the playoffs start, everyone is trying to prevent a goal. It’s a huge difference in mentality. And you usually don’t get this far unless you have someone in the net who is unbelievable.”
Price, for instance.
“It’s not much of a secret,” Cooper said. “He’s arguably the best goalie in the world. He’s been the backbone of their team for a lot of years. They’ve learned to play hockey around him. He’s kind of an x-factor. But we’ve had success against Carey Price. His numbers against the Lighting are pedestrian. That doesn’t make him less of goaltender, but we’ve had success.”