Lightning embrace a defense-first mentality for Game 4

TAMPA, Fla. — With an 11-goal outburst in Game 3 of the Eastern Conference Finals behind the Tampa Bay Lightning and New York Rangers, many voices in the home dressing room spent Friday morning speaking about a need to embrace a defense-first mentality for Game 4.

"We’re happy with the amount of goals we scored in the game," Lightning defenseman Anton Stralman said at Amalie Arena. "But at the same time, we have to clean up our defense a little bit better, make sure that’s our mentality first and foremost — to not let goals in instead of trying to score as many as we can. We have to focus on the right zone and make sure we do our things there."

Tampa Bay allowed five goals on 28 shots in Game 3 on Wednesday. New York’s output represented the second-largest total for a Lightning opponent in the current postseason, with the high mark belonging to the Montreal Canadiens, who produced a 6-2 victory in Game 4 of the Eastern Conference semifinals.

The Lightning’s defensive plan in Game 4 will not include defenseman Matt Carle, who was ruled out Friday morning with an undisclosed injury. He had just 1:36 of ice time in Tampa Bay’s Game 3 victory.

"When you have the skill and the speed that both these two teams have and a knack to score goals, sometimes offense can be your defense, and both these teams are fast and they’re skilled, and they’re constantly going to the net," Tampa Bay coach Jon Cooper said. "Now that I say it, it’s going to probably end up being 1-0 tonight. But there’s just too much skill on the ice to keep everybody down for long periods of time, and we want to, we’re trying. The goalies are trying. But they’re just getting beat by some pretty good players on both sides of the ice, and eventually, it will probably calm down."

Though a calm in the series’ high-scoring trend is possible, recent history shows that development is unlikely. Game 1 featured three goals, but Game 2 showcased eight before the offensive fireworks in Game 3.

Nonetheless, the Lightning know their defense must complement their strong offensive capabilities. Another chance to accomplish a balance comes Friday night.

"If you’re going to give up five goals every night, you’re going to have a tough time going forward," Tampa Bay defenseman Victor Hedman said. "So we have to make sure that we limit the time and space, and obviously for us, try to have the puck as much as we can."

You can follow Andrew Astleford on Twitter @aastleford or email him at aastleford@gmail.com.