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Tampa Bay Lightning

History not on Bolts' side, but task not impossible

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Published:   |   Updated: April 20, 2014 at 08:47 AM

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— Maybe you've heard the tale of a youthful group of Lightning players entering their first NHL playoff series dropping the first two games on home ice and seemingly wilting under the spotlight.

Sound familiar?

It should, because 11 years ago, Tampa Bay was in the same situation it faces today, staring at an 0-2 series deficit heading on the road and facing the reality of seeing an unexpected successful season swept away.

In that opening-round series in 2003, the Lightning dropped the first two at home against Washington, then rallied to win the next four to capture a playoff round for the first time in franchise history.

“Momentum can switch so quickly,'' said Chris Dingman, a member of that 2003 team. “You just need that one little thing, that one little spark, and recognizing that spark whatever it may be — if it's a hit, if it's a fight, if it's a goal — and then you ride that.''

Former Lightning captain and current vice president of corporate and community affairs Dave Andreychuk said he sees similarities between that 2003 team and the current crop on Tampa Bay's youthful roster.

“For us (in 2003), we knew that we hadn't played our best and we felt like we could play better,'' Andreychuk said. “We had a lot of young guys that were in their first series, so this is the same thing. There are some similarities. It's a little bit of the different atmosphere in Washington compared to Montreal, but the pressure is all on (the Canadiens) to win now. (Tampa Bay) can just go out and play.''

Perhaps there is a bit of deja vu going, and Jon Cooper certainly played the role of John Tortorella almost perfectly, playing the pressure card and trying to switch the focus from his team to a franchise that has had some unkind history when it comes to closing out playoff series.

Twice since 2006, the Canadiens have opened the playoffs by winning the first two games of a series on the road, only to go on and lose the series — in 2006 to Carolina and in 2011 to Boston, both teams that went on to win the Stanley Cup. Montreal did the same against the New York Rangers in 1996.

Certainly, Cooper has to be aware of that history, though he didn't come right out and say the pressure is on the opponent to close out the series like Tortorella did in 2003.

“I'm sure that they are tickled pink to go up 2-zip, but they still have to win games,'' Cooper said. “Clearly we have to win one, but sometimes Montreal can be a tough place to play when you're losing. It can be a great place to be in when you are winning, but they have to go home and deliver what they delivered (in Tampa). But we are coming in fighting. We have liked the way we played there.

“We like the ice, we like the rink, we like the atmosphere. So if I was going to pick any rink I wanted to go to and play, we've enjoyed playing in Montreal. So let's just go play Game 3. We have to win one, so let's go have some fun.''

Though it has happened in the past, history is not on Tampa Bay's side in this situation. Only 45 times in 332 occasions (13.6 percent) that a team went down 0-2 did the trailing team go on to win the series.

Though that percentage goes up to 22.8 percent for the team that lost the first two games at home (18 of 79), the task is still daunting.

“It's never over until it's over. You have to win four games to win a series,'' said defenseman Victor Hedman, part of the 2011 Lightning team that rallied from down 3-1 to Pittsburgh in the first round before advancing to the Eastern Conference finals. “So we just have to keep our head up, go into Montreal with the mentality that we can do it.''

Much of that mentality was discussed by the Lightning following a players-only meeting after Friday's Game 2 loss.

“This is when the character in the room comes out, and I have full confidence that we can respond and that we will respond,'' right wing Ryan Callahan said. “It's tough. You can't sugarcoat it. But we believe in each other in this room and we know what we can do. I feel like we have the character to come back.

“We have to focus on just one game. We win Game 3 and this is a new series, and that is what we are focused on right now.''

eerlendsson@tampatrib.com

(813) 259-7835

Twitter: @erlendssonTBO

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