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Lightning just can't wait to get on the road again

Team thinks a long break at home let it get too comfortable, and its game suffered for it.

DAMIAN CRISTODERO
Published May 13, 2004

BRANDON - Brad Richards couldn't put his finger on it, but something during the past two weeks siphoned a bit of the juice from the Lightning.

Not much. Just enough for the center to believe maybe, just maybe, the team got a little too comfortable.

Living at home will do that.

Whether it was the eight-day break after sweeping the Canadiens, the glowing media reports or the distractions of family and friends, Richards said Tampa Bay hasn't had the same bite to its game during the East final with the Flyers.

That is why he is looking forward to Game 3 tonight at the Wachovia Center in Philadelphia.

"For me, personally, I want to get out of here and get a change of venue and face a little adversity," he said after Wednesday's practice at the Ice Sports Forum. "Everything was going so well. We're at home and had eight days off and everything was great.

"We need the lifestyle of playoff hockey back in our blood. It really hasn't been in our blood. I mean, it has, but to get back into a hostile environment and realize where you're at: the (league) semifinals. It will emphasize playing good hockey. That's what we need."

Had the Lightning won Game 2, none of that might have been said. But after the Flyers routed Tampa Bay 6-2 to tie the series at one and snap Tampa Bay's eight-game winning streak, well, the team is looking for a spark.

The road provided that this season. The Lightning won a franchise-best 22 games away from the St. Pete Times Forum, including two at the Wachovia Center, and at 4-0 is the playoff's only undefeated road team.

At 6-0, Philadelphia is the only undefeated home team. What is the advantage for Tampa Bay?

"We've talked about it already," captain Dave Andreychuk said. "We've played well on the road in the playoffs. We shouldn't feel any different up there now. We should all have confidence in our game, and I think we do. We didn't have our best game (in Game 2) and we have to play better, but the confidence is still there."

It is their game that needs tweaking.

The Lightning did not match the Flyers' intensity in Game 2. Its defensive positioning was out of whack, and it didn't get save-our-skin goaltending from Nikolai Khabibulin.

Andreychuk said that can happen after so much time at home. You are not immersed in the game 24/7 as you are on the road. Your game can loosen.

"You can take shortcuts," he said, "especially when you've won so many in a row. We got a wake-up call the other night that we have to play better, more desperate. That is a good thing for us to get back on the road and get ourselves back to what it was at the end of the year."

Tampa Bay was in the same situation in the East quarterfinals against the Islanders. Tied at one after a disappointing 3-0 loss, the Lightning rediscovered its game at Nassau Coliseum.

A little bonding at a team dinner, card games in the hotel rooms and a team meeting in which the players rededicated themselves to the system apparently did wonders. The Lightning dined Wednesday night. No word on whether players would meet.

"The most important thing is just believing you can do it," coach John Tortorella said. "One of the paths we've crossed is that we believe we can win on the road. It's a mind-set of finding ways to do it and succeeding at it, and our guys believe they can do it on a regular basis."

Wherever they are.

"We're not going up there sightseeing to see the Liberty Bell," Andreychuk said. "We're going up there to win hockey games."

"You have to get that mentality of playoff hockey into your blood night in and night out," Richards said. "Maybe going into Philly is going to help that."

After all, you don't want to be too comfortable.
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