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Keeping up the mantra
By TOM JONES
Published April 23, 2006
[Times photo: Dirk Shadd]
"No pressure on us," John Tortorella said. "None. I think there is a ton of pressure on them. I think that goes without saying for the whole series. They're supposed to win."
OTTAWA - It wasn't a half-bad idea. In fact, it might have been the only plan that had a chance to work.
The Lightning knew it was facing Everest-type odds going against the Senators. After all, Ottawa was the beast of the East while the Lightning scrambled to get into the playoffs. Plus, the Senators have a Globetrotters-against-the-Generals hex over the Lightning.
So here went the plan: Before the series starts, plant the seeds of doubt in the minds of the Senators, a team with a fragile postseason history. Talk about how the Sens are supposed to win and how the Lightning, gosh-golly-gee, is just happy to be in the playoffs.
Then - somehow, some way - steal Game 1. Win the first one, and the media start circling the Sens, the fans start searching for sharp objects and the players take on that deer-in-the-headlights look. Win the first one, and it's anybody's series.
The Lightning said all the right things, played the way it was supposed to for a major chunk of Friday's game, got the goaltending it needed.
And still lost by three goals.
So now what? What's Plan B?
Because of Ottawa's 4-1 victory, the Lightning's situation has gone from difficult to nearly impossible. Not only have the Senators gone from skittish to self-assured, the Lightning surely must have gone from optimistic to ... uh-oh.
"We ended up losing a hockey game, but it is a series," Lightning coach John Tortorella said. "There are some really good things that we did. Our confidence isn't shaken. I think a lot of people think it is, but then there is no pressure on us. We're going to go out, stick with our game plan and try to find a way to do it for three periods and find a way to get a win."
It is true the Lightning did plenty of good things, especially through two periods. Heading into the third, the Lightning led 1-0 and outshot the Senators 29-26.
"We took the crowd out of the game," defenseman Cory Sarich said. "I think they were just waiting to see what we were going to do. And we did some good things. Just not enough to win the game. I don't think there is any reason for us to be down because we've really played well the last couple of times in this building."
But that's the point. The Lightning played well here in March, blew a 3-1 lead and lost 4-3 on a goal with seven seconds left. Then Friday, it gave up three goals in less than five minutes.
"We are confident, and we showed in the first 40 minutes of the game the way we have to play and the way we are capable of playing," defenseman Pavel Kubina said. "We can't let the momentum shift like that."
On Saturday, the Lightning went back to the same well as before Game 1. Even Tortorella's address to the media sounded the same.
"No pressure on us," Tortorella said. "None. I think there is a ton of pressure on them. I think that goes without saying for the whole series. They're supposed to win. I'm not going to sound like a broken record with that stuff. ... We don't need to talk about that because there is enough talk going on on the other side."
The way the Lightning figures it, a win tonight serves the same purpose as a win in Game 1 would have. The Senators could choke, the Lightning could rally and the series could be long. Just the way the Lightning wants it.
Saturday's talk included how the Lightning rallied from 2-0 down to beat the Capitals in 2003, how it rallied to win Game 7 after a heartbreaking loss in Game 6 against the Flyers in 2004. And, of course, beating Calgary on the road and again at home in Games 6 and 7 in the 2004 Stanley Cup final.
"We're all aware of how to handle the playoffs," forward Marty St. Louis said. "Lots of ups and downs. We've been through it."
The Lightning seemed even more confident Saturday than it did before Game 1.
"When we arrived in Ottawa, when I got here, I was just waiting to be overwhelmed and I wasn't," Sarich said. "Everything was okay. I just have a really good feeling. Now we just have to find a way to convert our mental state into our physical play, and we'll be all right."
If not, the Lightning will be looking for a Plan C.