Thursday, December 8

Bolts hope to carry Friday’s strong finish into critical Game 4

With each passing day, the games get bigger and bigger.

The Tampa Bay Lightning will play in the most important game of their season at 7 pm ET tonight when they take on the Toronto Maple Leafs in Game 4 of their opening-round series.

After dropping Game 3 on Friday night, the Bolts will look to even up the series on Sunday before traveling back to Toronto for Game 5 on Tuesday.

“We had a good practice yesterday, good meeting,” said Lightning defenseman Zach Bogosian. “Similar to after Game 1, I thought we had a really good attitude about how we wanted to work and that’s something that we’re looking forward to tonight.”

The Bolts hope to play the duration of tonight’s contest similarly to how they played in the final period of Game 3. Tampa Bay outshot Toronto 14-7 during that third period and nearly got the game tied up before the Maple Leafs scored an empty-net goal to secure their 2-1 series lead.

“Last game we started to come on a little bit more and play the way we know how we can play,” said Tampa Bay forward Corey Perry. “The message is simple. Keep doing that.

“We were getting chances. They’re a good team. They’re going to stop some of them. The goalie’s good. He’s going to make some saves. [We] can’t get frustrated by that.

“Just continue to do what we did in the third period and have that same mindset coming into the first period tonight.”

Video: Corey Perry | Pregame Round 1 Game 4

It’s a heavy mix of emotions in the Stanley Cup Playoffs. After a win, it’s easy to feel great and potentially lose some motivation. After a loss, it’s easy to feel angry and generate motivation to win that next game. There has to be a balance and the Lightning feel like they are in a good position heading into Game 4.

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“Our group doesn’t lack confidence,” said Bogosian. “It hasn’t in a long time, so that will never be a question.

“It’s obviously just [about] executing our game plan. I’m sure you’re going to hear that over and over and over from every guy in the room, from the coaches on down, but we believe in it and that’s kind of how we’re going about it.”

It’s another pivotal game for Tampa Bay, who will look to even the series and avoid going down 3-1. Teams that take a 3-1 lead in a best-of-seven series hold a series record of 296-30 all-time, equaling a 91% chance of winning the series.

The Lightning have played in 51 postseason games since the last time they dropped two playoff games in a row and will hope to continue that impressive streak tonight. Maybe the biggest part of that success has been Andrey Vasilevskywho has played lights out for Tampa Bay following a loss in the playoffs.

Vasilevskiy has posted a perfect 15-0 record following a postseason loss with some incredible numbers. Over those 15 games, he has posted a 1.31 goals-against average paired with a .948 save percentage. On top of that, Vasilevskiy has recorded a shutout in five of those 15 contests.

Tampa Bay head coach Jon Cooper was especially confident in Vasilevskiy following the Lightning’s Game 1 loss to Toronto.

“The goalie finds a way to get himself dialed in these situations, not that he doesn’t in other scenarios, but give him 60 minutes of a game, especially if you put a few by him,” Cooper said. “He’s pretty proud guy. When he’s got his focus in like he has in these scenarios, he’s pretty tough to beat.”

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It will take more than a strong performance from Vasilevskiy to even the series tonight. The Bolts need to stay out of the penalty box and get some consistent scoring going in Game 4.

“That (taking penalties) is definitely not a recipe for success,” Perry said. “They have a very good power play. If they get their looks, they’re going to put them in the back of the net.

“If we limit their time on that, it definitely helps in our favor. It’s just little things that can turn the tide in a series.”

Giving players like Auston Matthews and Mitch Marner multiple opportunities with the man advantage isn’t something that will help the Lightning get this series tied at two. At five-on-five in Game 3, Tampa Bay deployed the line of Brayden Point, Anthony Cirelliand alex killorn against the Maple Leafs’ top line and had great success.

At even strength, the Lightning recorded 27 shots on goal on Friday. The Point line accounted for eight of those 27 shots, all while drawing the toughest matchup in shutting down Toronto’s top line.

“They’re a huge driving force,” said Bogosian. “Pointer’s a world-class player and Cirelli’s a guy that I really didn’t know a ton about until I got down here.

Video: Jon Cooper | Pregame Round 1 Game 4

“You see what he does every game, night in and night out, how hard he competes and how hard he makes it on the opposition. He’s kind of that engine that keeps us going and he plays so intense and guys feed off it. He’s a guy that can bring you in the fight and it’s awesome.”

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Perry was impressed with the performance from that line as well. The veteran forward remains confident that trio will continue to play the same way in Game 3 and hopefully drag some other guys into the fight with them on Sunday night.

“They’ve done a heck of a job,” Perry said. “You started to see it in the second game there.

“The other night, they were skating, they were physical, they were hard on the puck, and they had some chances. Eventually those things are going to start going in for our side.

“You can’t say enough about what they did the other night. They’re going to continue to do that.”

If the rest of the Bolts can match that energy and intensity, combined with a collective effort to stay out of the penalty box, then they will give themselves a great chance to get this series tied.

Bogosian made the goal pretty simple with just seven words on Sunday morning.

“It’s playoff hockey. We want to win.”

We’ll see if Tampa Bay can do just that in front of their home fans at AMALIE Arena at 7 pm tonight.

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