Stamkos: Bolts have to embrace the challenge of Game 6

Steven Stamkos got counsel before this year's playoffs began from a man who played 196 career NHL postseason games and won three Stanley Cups.

What this Hockey Hall of Famer had to say has already proved prescient for the young Tampa Bay Lightning captain.

"I had a talk with Steve Yzerman before the playoffs and he said, 'Just be prepared for anything to happen and just stay even keel,'" Stamkos said. "We almost put up 50 [shots] in the first game against Detroit and lose. That’s exactly what he was talking about. Now, we go up 3-0, they get a couple of games, [we] just need to refocus and come back home. I think we’re excited. We have to embrace the challenge. We owe our fans a better game at home. I believe in this group."

The Bolts, of course, believe, but now so do the Montreal Canadiens, who have roared back in this second-round series after going down 3-zip, and regardless of what anybody says, the pressure has certainly shifted somewhat. Game 6 is Tuesday night in Tampa, Florida.

Sure, the Habs continue to have the pressure of knowing one more loss and they’re toast. But now the Lightning have the pressure of knowing they want no part of a Game 7 in the crazy Bell Centre in Montreal. So, Game 6 almost feels like a must-win as well for them.

Still, forgetting for a moment the current flow of events, had anyone handed the Lightning before the series a scenario in which a Game 6 win at home would secure a berth to the Eastern Conference finals, every single member of the organization would have jumped at it.

"Oh, absolutely, we would have taken that every day," said Stamkos, who scored his second goal of the series Saturday night in the 2-1 loss. "We’re going to have the skeptics saying, 'Yeah, but you were up 3-0.' But for sure we would have taken this from day one. This is an opportunity for us to rise up to the occasion, for the guys on this team to build off past experiences that we’ve had, not only last year but this year in the playoffs so far where we’ve risen to the challenge. It’s going to be a good test for us."

A series that most of us predicted would go six or seven games has indeed lived up to billing, although not in the fashion anyone figured. At 3-0, you figure it’s going to end quickly.

But the Habs waxed the Lightning 6-2 in Game 4 at Amalie Arena in Tampa before edging them Saturday night in a game that was close on the scoreboard but felt more tilted toward Montreal in the opening two periods before the Lightning played their best in the final period.

"You always want to close it out as soon as you can, but I still like our chances," said star Tampa defenseman Victor Hedman. "We’d rather be up 3-2 than down 3-2 going back to our building. We feel like we can play much better at home, too. I don’t think pressure is the right word. I think excitement and playing in front of our fans is what this team is feeling. We expected a long series. We just have to make sure we play our game on Tuesday."

Stamkos and Hedman said they owe their fans a good home game because they weren’t very good in Games 3 and 4, and overall have strangely lost three of their six home games in the playoffs so far; that after having the NHL’s best home record in the regular season.

Just another example of why they say the playoffs are a new season. And here’s another example of that: While sweeping the Canadiens 5-0-0 in the regular season, the Lightning outshot the Habs 191-120.

That’s been reversed here in their playoff series, the Canadiens having outshot the Lightning 173-127 through five games.

It’s part of the reason the Canadiens feel they should actually be up in the series, not behind.

"I think we've outplayed them," said star Habs blueliner P.K. Subban. "I think we've played well for most of the series. Their style is a little bit different than ours; they play a puck-possession style and it can be frustrating at times when you don't have the puck. But I think, today [Saturday], our transition game was better. I think our transition game was the difference in the game. When they turned pucks over, we didn't hold on to it. We moved it up the ice and we attacked, we attacked, we attacked. That's their game -- they want to attack all the time, and their D don't like to hold on to the puck. They want to move it up to their forwards right away, they're quick, they're fast, they're skilled. I thought our defense did a good job of stepping up and closing the gap and limiting their time and space.

"At the same token, we've got to go back in their building and do it again. It's going to be a tough game, it's going to be a challenge."

Lightning blueliner Anton Stralman said we’ve now gotten the series that was supposed to happen. Simple as that.

"Nobody said this was going to be easy," he said. "They won the division for a reason, they’re the best defensive team in the league. They’re a really, really good team. So, this series is a tough one. I didn’t think we were going to sweep them; nobody felt that beforehand. We put ourselves in a real good position."

Game 6 at home to win the series. Tampa Bay will take that. The Lightning just want no part of a Game 7, is all.