Lightning have veteran leaders to lean on for playoff run
TAMPA, Fla. -- It's the same game, but the temperature rises.
It's the same stage, but the spotlight is different.
This brand of hockey is still like watching sprint cars on ice, this a game of bruises and blurs. But there's something about the postseason that produces a special buzz.
The Tampa Bay Lightning will make their second consecutive appearance in the Stanley Cup Playoffs, but they're searching for their first postseason victory under coach Jon Cooper. A quick exit in the Eastern Conference quarterfinals against the Montreal Canadiens last year offered lessons. They say they're more prepared to ace the test before them, which begins with Game 1 against the Detroit Red Wings on Thursday night at Amalie Arena.
But what does it take to survive hockey's Hunger Games?
What's required to make the most of these weeks ahead?
"I don't know if it's one thing," Lightning center Brian Boyle said. "You draw up X's and O's and power plays and penalty kills. And ultimately, it's the will, no matter what it is."
Boyle should know something about will. He was signed last July for this moment. He's a veteran of 58 postseason games with the New York Rangers, experience that includes an appearance in the Stanley Cup Final last year. He has posted a combined 10 assists and 19 points in four postseason berths.
Boyle's favorite postseason memory is beating the Canadiens in Game 6 of the Eastern Conference Finals to earn that chance to dance for Lord Stanley's Cup. Then, he witnessed how to survive in the thick of struggle, all the way up until falling three games short against the Los Angeles Kings.
"There are always injuries," Boyle said. "There are always things you guys won't know about -- the will and the unity of a team, guys sticking together."
Defenseman Braydon Coburn knows a thing about sticking together, too. Like Boyle, he was acquired to help the Lightning develop thicker skin for the playoffs. Coburn is a veteran of 72 postseason games with the Philadelphia Flyers, experience that includes an appearance in the Stanley Cup Final in 2010. He has posted a combined 21 assists and 23 points in six postseason berths.
Coburn's favorite postseason memory is roaring back from a three-games-to-none deficit against the Boston Bruins in the 2010 Eastern Conference semifinals. Most left the Flyers for dead. But Coburn's bunch kept chip, chip, chipping away: A 5-4 overtime victory in Game 4, a 4-0 victory in Game 5, a 2-1 victory in Game 6, a dramatic 4-3 victory in Game 7 after falling behind 3-0 in the first period.
"There are so many factors, it's hard to hammer down on one particular thing," said Coburn, gained in a trade in March. "You need a lot of things to go right for the team to move on, and it starts with special teams, goaltending, discipline. There's no one aspect of the game that I feel you can really have compromised and still move on, especially with the parity of all the teams in the playoffs."
Because of the parity, because of the razor-thin difference between survival and seeing Cup dreams die, the Lightning will lean on players like Boyle and Coburn. Same goes for defenseman Anton Stralman, who has played in 55 postseason games. Same with winger Brenden Morrow, who has appeared in 94.
Yes, by any definition, this is still hockey.
But anyone who assumes this is business as usual, well, the joke's on them.