Can anyone defend home ice in Bolts-Caps series?

by Gary Shelton on May 19, 2018 · 0 comments

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Killorn scored the winning goal for Bolts./CARMEN MANDATO

Killorn scored the winning goal for Bolts./CARMEN MANDATO

Wednesday, 3 a.m.

You get to sleep in your own beds. You get to dress at your own locker. You get to skate on your own ice.

You get to drive yourself to the rink. You get to hear your own fans. You get the last lineup change.

Doggone, there is supposed to be something to this home ice advantage.

Ah, but not in the playoff series between the Washington Capitals and the Tampa Bay Lightning. The Caps won twice when the series was in Tampa Bay. The Bolts won twice when it was in Washington. The teams keep lighting up the other team's scoreboard.

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McDonagh thought the Bolts were best in the third period./CARMEN MANDATO

McDonagh thought the Bolts were best in the third period./CARMEN MANDATO

And here we are, in Game Five of the nobody-can-hold-a-home-edge series. The Caps won on the road, but they've been unable to close it out at home. The Bolts were embarrassed twice at home, but they managed to square the series on enemy ice.

"I mean, let's be honest," said Bolts coach Jon Cooper. "Being down 0-2 at home, you're on life support. That's basically what it was. The guys found a way to claw themselves out. But it doesn't matter. The series is tied at 2-2, doesn't matter how you got there. It's still 2-2. Pretty sure everybody knows how pivotal Game 5 is. I'm sure it's going to be no different in this series."

The Lightning has the momentum. It has the home-ice advantage. It has the hot goaltender. It's penalty kill is doing well.

Still, can it win one at home?

"I think we've played well at times in this series," Cooper said. "Have we responded to situations? You go down, tough environment, four minutes into a game, all we did was take over the next 10 minutes, get the lead. Then it doesn't look like we played that well in the last seven minutes, but we did. Peeled off all those penalties.

"You look to come out of that period 2-1, I would say we had a pretty good period. So there's the good. Second is the bad. Then you look at the third period, it was probably kind of a wash until we got the lead. We were fine. I don't think we played consistent. That's probably the big thing. Let's string together three periods, not one here, take one off, one here. That's what we have to be better at."

Alex Killorn scored the winning goal for the Bolts Thursday night. Like a lot of players, he hasn't been shooting enough for the Lightning

"Alex is an important part of our team," Cooper said. "He's been an important part in many playoff series for us. Would we have liked a little bit more production out of that line? There's no question. The one thing, you can sit here and say production, production, production. Talk to me about how they've been on the penalty kill. He's done really well. Some of it doesn't always add up in the point total.

"But if I'm going to pick apart a little part of his game, he's not shooting the puck enough, which he's got a shot, got a great release, he's just not getting them through to the net. It was only a matter of time for him. The kid's got talent. You can see that last night. That's a goal-scorer's goal. It's been good to see."

One key for the Lightning will be to make Caps goalie Brian Holtby work as hard as Alex Vasilevskiy did on Thursday.

"A lot of that, too, is just momentum," Cooper said. "The big issue for us is not shooting the puck enough. I think Washington has done a good job, they'll throw pucks at the net and go get the rebound. We're looking a little bit more, Let's get it, move it around, possession time, let's throw it behind the net. All of a sudden we're out of the zone. It kind of gets a little contagious, Let's make their goalie have to work.

"We've done it on special teams obviously, but we need to do it a little bit better five-on-five."

Killorn said it was nice scoring the goal.

"It was big for me," Killorn said. "You don't focus too much on individual stats in the playoffs especially. But it does wear on you a little bit because you just want to be more of a contributing factor to the team. It had been a couple games that I hadn't scored. To get that was nice."

Killorn said the key to playing at home is to approach it as if the team was on the road.

"When you're on the road, everyone talks about how you play a more simple game," Killorn said. "You kind of wait for things to happen or you don't force things because you don't want to make a mistake on the road typically.

"I think that's the way we have to handle tomorrow, kind of don't force any mistakes, play good, defensive hockey, let those plays come to us."

Killorn also emphasized shooting more.

"We need to have a higher shot volume," Killorn said. "They've done a great job in that sense. They've done a good job breaking pucks out, not spending too much time in their defensive zone. Hasn't allowed us to have a lot of second-chance opportunities. We have to be better in that department."

Said Ryan McDonagh: "Definitely I think we passed up some opportunities to shoot the puck. Offensively we got to find ways to not look for something else, put pucks on the net and go there. That's how goals are scored. The dirty goals is what is probably going to end up being the difference in the game. We'll keep looking at that and try to fine-tune our game."

In short, the Bolts need to play their best game of the series.

"I think the best we felt as a team is probably when Killer scored and gave us the lead there," McDonagh said. "We were really focused and determined for the last bit of the third period. If there's anything we can use going forward here, it's that mindset we had, focus, that determination, that locked-in both ways. We still carried the play pretty well there. Had some offensive zone time finally, we didn't have much in the second period. We'll look to kind of capitalize on that and keep using that for the next game."

Game time is 7:15 tonight at Amalie Arena.

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