|ESPN.com: NHL Playoffs 2011||[Print without images]|
TAMPA, Fla. -- These are the defining moments of a playoff series.
The moments when a team stops the snowball from rolling down the hill or is buried by said snowball.
When a team rises to the occasion or becomes a casualty of that occasion.
We delight in these moments. But do the Tampa Bay Lightning love them?
We'll find out Saturday when they try to stop a two-game losing streak that threatens their playoff lives.
Yes, we recall that the Tampa Bay Lightning survived a 3-1 series deficit in the opening round against the Pittsburgh Penguins. No need to remind anyone that Pittsburgh team was wanting for Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin.
The Boston Bruins are actually getting healthier and more dangerous with the return of top center Patrice Bergeron in Game 3. No coincidence, perhaps, that the Bruins won that game by a 2-0 count, limiting odd-man rushes and power-play chances.
In short, they represent a completely different playoff animal than the short-staffed Penguins.
|"We welcome the challenge. It's the Stanley Cup playoffs; it should be desperation," Tampa forward Ryan Malone said.|
"Oh yeah, it's a big bear," Ryan Malone said with a big grin.
Oh, we get it, Bruins, bears.
But the point is a good one: This Bruins team has some teeth.
"Yeah, you definitely don't want to go down 3-1. But you can't really think negatively," Malone said.
From the outside, it might be the kind of situation that sparks worry or fretting. What happens if we lose? What if we give up the first goal, as the Lightning did early in Game 2?
"You don't really think that way," Malone said. "We welcome the challenge. It's the Stanley Cup playoffs; it should be desperation."
So, who will it be?
If it's to be someone at all, who will step forward as Tyler Seguin did for the Bruins in Game 2 and Tim Thomas did in Game 3?
One would imagine this is the kind of moment built for Steven Stamkos.
He has played well this spring, with his game evolving as the days have passed and the Lightning have continued to advance.
"We've kind of given ourselves a taste of everything you can go through in the playoffs. Obviously, it gets more and more pressure situations with how much further you go in the playoffs. But it's 2-1. You win a game, and it's an even series now. We've been in this position before, so I think there's just a calming presence that we've felt ever since we came back against Pittsburgh that has taken over this team. It's a confidence, but it's knowing that we have to play our game in order to be successful," Stamkos said.
As for his own role moving forward, Stamkos is aware of what his skill set means to the Lightning.
"Well, you want to contribute, and for me these are the biggest games of my career. You can look at it one way: You're seven wins away from winning a Stanley Cup. But you've still got a lot of hard work to do. It's a lot easier to get up for these games. You feel the rush when the anthem's going on. You feel that adrenaline rush. You just have good feelings heading into games. So for me, it's an exciting time. There's really no nerves. We've got here for a reason, because we've played a certain way, and we've just got to stick to it," Stamkos said.
Certainly this spring has seen the Lightning respond to various situations, including being down 2-1 to Pittsburgh in the first round and then losing Game 4.
"For me, not being in the playoffs before this year, you're nervous heading into your first couple of games. But I think we've kind of been in every scenario that you can in the playoffs. I mean, we've been down 3-1, we've forced a Game 7, we've won that, and we come in and we sweep a series and feel what it's like being up 2-0, being up 3-0 and still playing in that situation," Malone said.
Coach Guy Boucher agreed the aggressive Lightning forwards were a tad off in Game 3 and needed to rediscover their offensive spark after scoring 10 goals in the first two games of the series.
"You're right, we were slower. We're a team that's used to driving the net extremely hard. Guys are relentless, usually going to the net and having their sticks heavy there and fighting, and we weren't as good. We weren't as good in that respect," Boucher said.
Both teams traded in the riverboat gambler mentality that marked Boston's 6-5 win in Game 2, but the Bruins were just a bit better than the hometown Lightning in Game 3.
"We were better defensively except for one or two big mistakes. The rest of the game, we did very well. Didn't give them any odd-man rushes and stuff that they can capitalize on off the rush," Boucher said.
"They did the same, though. So it looked like a neutral zone battle yesterday that both teams weren't going to fail at. So it becomes a battle deep in your zone and deep in their zone. And that's why we're expecting a tough series until the end."
Scott Burnside covers the NHL for ESPN.com.