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Don’t call Lightning playoff game against Chicago a must-win

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Look, it’s a want-to-win game.

It’s a it-would-feel-good-to-win game.

It’s a wouldn’t-this-series-look-nice-tied game.

But a must win? No, the players of the Tampa Bay Lightning stop short of calling it a must win. Why, they could lose this game, and all they would have to do would be to win four out of five, three of those on the road. They could lose this, and they would still have time. There is a difference between being on a cliff, after all, and being on the edge.

So going into Game Two at home, the Lightning isn’t sweating its circumstances.

On the other hand, dark clouds would form, and doubts would begin, and the engraver would start to learn how to spell the names of the various Blackhawks for inscribing on the puck if the Blackhawks win. Another win is a step toward trouble. Another wins means Chicago has a chance to end this thing in a hurry.

So maybe it isn’t a must-win for the Bolts.

Just for the rest of us.

“I don’t think it is,” said defenseman Matt Carle. “ We’re pretty confident in our road game. We’ve shown that a lot throughout the playoffs where we need to have a must-win on the road, we’ve been able to pull that out.

“I don’t really think that adds a whole lot of pressure to tomorrow. Obviously we want to even the series up, feeling good going into Chicago. By no means I don’t think we put that kind of must-win pressure on us for tomorrow.”

In other words, it isn’t until a team is on the edge of the cliff that things get tense. It’s just an interesting view.

“It’s not a must-win until you’ve lost three games in a series,” said captain Steven Stamkos. “We’re confident in our ability to bounce back after a loss. I talked about it before. After tough games we responded well to not playing well and losing, and playing well and losing. We’re confident in our ability to come back and even this series up.

As you might expect, Ryan Callahan says much the same.

“I don’t think there’s a must-win unless you’re facing elimination,” Callahan said. “We put a lot of pressure on ourselves to try to win every playoff game. I think that’s the way you approach it. You approach the game, you want to win it. You want to do everything you can to do it. That’s the way we’re going to approach tomorrow, the same way we approached Game 1.”

Maybe. Maybe there is nothing to fear.

But at 2-0, it’s going to be hard to slow a Blackhawks team that is looking at its third title in six years. For the Lightning, a 1-1 series seems a lot more manageable.

If there is one thing that is promising for the Lightning, it might be this. The Bolts are 3-0 in Game 2s in the playoffs. They have now lost the opening game three times in four tries.

“It’s probably in our style,” said Lightning coach Jon Cooper. “We’ve never made it easy on ourselves. “But we came here to win this thing, and that’s what we’re going to try to do.”

For the Lightning to do that, must it win Game 2?

No, but it would be convenient.

Gary Shelton is one of the most recognized and honored sportswriters in the history of the state. He has won the APSE's national columnist of the year twice and finished in the top 10 eight times. He was named the Florida Sportswriter of the Year six times. Gary joined SaintPetersBlog in the spring, helping to bring a sports presence to the website. Over his time in sports writing, Gary has covered 29 Super Bowls, 10 Olympics, Final Fours, Masters, Wimbledons and college national championships. He was there when the Bucs won a Super Bowl, when the Lightning won a Stanley Cup and when the Rays went to a World Series. He has seen Florida, FSU and Miami all win national championships, and he covered Bear Bryant, Bobby Bowden and Don Shula along the way. He and his wife Janet have four children: Eric, Kevin, K.C. and Tori. To contact, visit garysheltonsports@gmail.com.

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