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Lightning seeks emotional stability
The playoffs include ups and downs, but players must focus on the now.
By DAMIAN CRISTODERO
Published April 20, 2007
EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. - Funny how fast things change in a playoff series, isn't it?
A split of the first two games of the East quarterfinal in New Jersey gave the Lightning home-ice advantage and a dose of momentum. A split of the next two games in Tampa re-established home-ice advantage for the Devils and sent ol' Mo back to the Meadowlands.
One day confidence, the next questions. One day the juice of expectations, the next sober reassessment.
Up and down, high and low, it's enough to make players grasp for that even keel they always talk about.
That is especially true for Tampa Bay as it prepares for Game 5 tonight at Continental Airlines Arena after an emotional overtime loss in Game 4 at home.
"You need to park it," coach John Tortorella said, "and get ready for the next game."
That is easier said than done. But the Lightning, and the Devils for that matter, are better equipped than most to handle that assignment.
New Jersey's last Stanley Cup was in 2003. Tampa Bay was Cup champion in 2004. The cores of both teams are still fairly intact.
That means big-game experience can be drawn on by veterans and imparted to playoff novices. As Devils coach Lou Lamoriello said, "Everybody gets down. It's how you control it. Character is not something you can teach. You either have it or you don't. But what you can do is support and surround people with strength."
The Lightning did that after Thursday's practice when team leaders spoke in a short meeting.
"This isn't anything new to us," captain Tim Taylor said. "This isn't something that's going to scare us. This is an opportunity for us to come in here and play a solid hockey game and be up three games to two heading home. This is not a situation. This is an experience for us."
History, to a certain extent, is on Tampa Bay's side. The team is 3-1 in series tied at two, including wins in the 2004 East final against the Flyers and the Cup final against the Flames.
But both were won in a seventh game on home ice, an advantage that belongs to the Devils.
As for Game 5, Taylor said perhaps the Lightning has the edge.
"You're down. You've lost that important game. You have more bite coming back the next game," he said. "That's the thing with the playoffs. The emotions go so high and low. You really have to guard against the highs. The lows you don't have to worry about because it makes you come back harder the next game."
None of this happens in a vacuum.
The Lightning had serious puck-possession issues in Game 4. It cannot again go 11:36, 10:15 and 7:15 without getting a shot. And it needs someone to score besides Marty St. Louis and Vinny Lecavalier, the only players with more than one and who have combined for eight of the team's 12.
"This is how you get experience, going through the ups and downs of the playoffs," St. Louis said. "It will make us a better team because of it."
"We've gone through this before," Taylor said. "Just relax and play."