TAMPA — After bolting out of South Florida with a lopsided victory Monday night, the Tampa Bay Lightning zipped back home to take a well-earned deep breath.
Tampa Bay captured a fifth consecutive victory with a 6-1 rout of the Panthers, ensuring the break would be enjoyed just a little bit more.
“It’s nice to take a three-day breather,” Lightning head coach Jon Cooper said. “This is my favorite time of the year, but I couldn’t even tell you it’s Christmastime. It’s either been game day, off day or practice day.”
The past three days — Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday — were complete off days for the Lightning, with no team activities of any kind. But the three-day hiatus ends as the Lightning return to practice before hosting Montreal on Saturday.
The four days between games is the first time Tampa Bay has gone more than three days between games since Nov. 3-6. It also marks the last time they will go this long between games, except for the two-week break for the Olympics in February.
It offered a rare chance to step away from the rink before getting ready for the next two months, when the team will play 21 games in a 43-day span before the Olympic break.
“You just want to take a breath and enjoy this,’’ Cooper said. “And it’s pretty cool going in to the break zipping off five in a row.’’
The Lightning have been rolling of late, sporting a 7-1-2 record in the past 10 games. In that time, Tampa Bay out-scored opponents 28-19 while holding the opposition to fewer than three goals eight times. And in the past three games, it dominated with strong puck possession and puck retrieval, keeping the opposition hemmed in.
Tampa Bay is second in the Atlantic Division, two points ahead of Montreal, and third overall in the Eastern Conference.
“We are really happy with what we have done up to this point and it’s something to be proud of,’’ left wing Alex Killorn said, “but we realize especially coming back that we have a few hard games starting with Montreal right away. So, we are going to make sure we take care of ourselves over the break.’’
Riding a wave of positive momentum makes it easier to enjoy the time away from the rink, with the challenge being finding a way to maintain that momentum coming out of the break.
“When you are playing good, you wish you could play again tomorrow,’’ captain Marty St. Louis said. “We are going to take care of ourselves, enjoy this. But we have to pick back up where we left off.’’