The Tampa Bay Lightning’s temperament remains unchanged heading into Game 4 of the Eastern Conference Final against the New York Islanders at Rogers Place in Edmonton on Sunday (3 p.m. ET; NBC, CBC, SN, TVAS).
Although the Lightning were disappointed after a 5-3 loss in Game 3 on Friday in Edmonton, the hub city for the conference finals and Stanley Cup Final, coach Jon Cooper said he sees a resolve to turn the page quickly, as they did following an 8-2 win in Game 1 and their 2-1 win in Game 2.
Leading the best-of-7 series, Tampa Bay is two wins from reaching the Cup Final for the first time since 2015.
“I like the confidence in our room and oftentimes you wouldn’t be able to tell the difference if we won or lost,” Cooper said Saturday. “These guys know the task at hand, and they know it’s not best 2-out-of-3 or 3-out-of-5. They know what is ahead of them, and I like that because you can’t ride the emotions, the highs and the lows. You want to, and sometimes you just really want to enjoy these wins so much.
“But we have a goal and we’re inching closer to it, but we’re not quite there, and let’s just learn from this last game.”
That approach has served the Lightning well. They won six straight before Friday and have yet to lose consecutive games in the Stanley Cup Playoffs. Tampa Bay lost one game in each of its previous series against the Columbus Blue Jackets and Boston Bruins.
The Lightning have at least one reinforcement coming with forward Alex Killorn returning after being suspended for Game 3 for boarding Islanders forward Brock Nelson in Game 2. But center Brayden Point‘s status remains unknown after he was unfit to play in Game 3.
Cooper spoke with the media before the Lightning practiced Saturday and did not provide an update on Point, who left in the second period of Game 2 on Wednesday with a possible injury. Video later provided by the nhl showed Point participating in practice.
Islanders coach Barry Trotz said he expects center Casey Cizikas to be a game-time decision Sunday after he was unfit to play in Game 3. As part of the nhl Return to Play Plan, a team is not permitted to disclose player injury or illness information.
New York’s belief that it can come back in the series grew after pulling out the win Friday, with Nelson breaking a 3-3 tie with 3:25 remaining in the third period. The Islanders also thought they played well in Game 2, which was tied until Lightning forward Nikita Kucherov scored the winning goal with nine seconds left.
“I think Game 2, we played a pretty good game. We played how we want to play,” New York defenseman Ryan Pulock said. “But we’ve just got to keep building here. It’s a long series. Getting that win yesterday was huge. Game 4 is going to be really big too, so we’ve just got to continue to get ourselves ready for tomorrow.”
The Islanders also understand the importance of moving on quickly after each game, win or lose. They have some areas of their game to clean up after letting a 3-1 lead slip away in the third period before rebounding to win Friday.
“I think Game 2 gave us the confidence that we could win Game 3,” Trotz said. “Now, you’ve [gotten] within a game of getting the series tied up. That’s going to give us a little bit of a boost, but at the same time, Tampa Bay’s been there before, they’ve been to the conference finals many times. They’ve got a veteran team as well.
“They’re probably getting Killorn back for sure, and maybe Point. We’re going to get their best game tomorrow, and we’ve got to have our best game.”
The Lightning lost focus for a stretch in the second period of Game 3, when the Islanders scored twice, and made mistakes in the defensive zone that led to three goals against. So they know that’s an area where they need to be better.
They also know what a win would mean. Teams that take a 3-1 lead are 288-29 (90.9 percent) winning a best-of-7 nhl playoff series, including 10-0 this postseason. Since the conference format was adopted for the 1981-82 season, teams with a 3-1 lead in the conference finals are 34-1 (97.1 percent). The New Jersey Devils rallied to defeat the Philadelphia Flyers in the 2000 Eastern Conference Final and then won the Stanley Cup.
“I just think we go in with a mindset of just playing every game like it’s a clinching game,” Tampa Bay forward Pat Maroon said. “So we’ve got to find ways to just keep playing the way we’re playing. We have a good group in there, we have a good team that knows how to bounce back when a loss happens. … We’re going to get a really good Islanders team. They’re not backing down, so we’ve got to find ways to bring our best game tomorrow.”