TAMPA, Fla. -- It’s fitting that the Tampa Bay Lightning team charter arrived home Monday afternoon slightly earlier than expected.
The Lightning players can’t wait to be back on home ice for Game 6 on Tuesday (8 p.m. ET). Holding a 3-2 series lead over the New York Rangers in the Eastern Conference finals, the Lightning are looking to punch their ticket to the Stanley Cup finals with a win at Amalie Arena. Without a doubt, they do not want a return trip to Madison Square Garden for a Game 7.
"Everybody in our locker room would love to not have to get on a plane again," said Lightning coach Jon Cooper. "It’s not so much that we’re scared of a Game 7. We’ve gone through those situations in these playoffs. I just don’t want to get on a plane for a while."
This deep into the Stanley Cup playoffs, Cooper described his team as a well-oiled machine. That’s a confident statement, especially given the opponent on the other side. But Cooper is not wrong. No matter how this series ends, Tampa Bay is playing some solid hockey.
That was on display during the Lightning's 2-0 win in Game 5 on Sunday at MSG. They blocked a total of 24 shots in front of a 26-save performance by goaltender Ben Bishop. Lightning forward Brian Boyle, who led the way with five blocked shots, described how sacrificing your body can energize your teammates.
"It’s a momentum shift," he said. "It picks everybody up ... and making sure we do everything we can to keep the puck out of our net."
If the Lightning win Tuesday, the next time they get on a plane will be to either Chicago or Anaheim.
But the Rangers and goaltender Henrik Lundqvist are no strangers to adversity, and the Lightning understand that if the Rangers force a Game 7 in New York, it doesn’t bode well for Tampa Bay.
"It’s going to be a tough game," said Boyle. "Last game was a tough game. We have to understand the momentum and all of that and it starts fresh now. We also need to understand that a desperate team is a dangerous team. We need to match that desperation."