Lightning return to ice fresh, ready for Eastern Conference Finals

COVER – The Tampa Bay Lightning trained on Thursday for the first time since finishing the second round against the Florida Panthers on Monday.

When they start the Eastern Conference Finals it’s unclear with the series between the New York Rangers and Carolina Hurricanes going through at least Saturday and possibly Monday. Tampa Bay Captain Steven Stamkos said he wasn’t sure how the dismissal will affect the team.

“It’s nice to get some rest, but I don’t know, you can see it in many ways,” Stamkos said. “We have a lot of time between sets, and you have some guys who are injured, so it will be good for them to heal.

“On the other hand, you’re so used to playing every day and you’re in that rhythm and that’s cool too. So you get your poison there.”

The Lightning, who are looking to win the Stanley Cup for a third straight season, await the winner of the best-of-7 series between the Hurricanes and Rangers, which was tied 2-2 before Game 5 on Thursday.

Tampa Bay Strikers Brayden Point (lower body) and Brandon Hagel (body maintenance) did not attend the practice. Lightning did not have an immediate update on the status of any of the players. Point hasn’t skated since being injured in Game 7 of the Eastern Conference first round against the Toronto Maple Leafs.

Assistant Jeff Halpern said coaches are eyeing the championship in 2020, which came after a four-month gap between the regular season and the Stanley Cup playoffs due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

“We’re trying to build on some of the experiences from the past, especially the COVID camp,” Halpern said. “It looks a bit like where you probably have a week. I don’t know if there’s really a recipe for it.”

“I know we’ve talked to some junior teams that take time off before the Memorial Cup and how they did it.”

But on Thursday, it was simply important to get on the ice and start skating together again.

“It’s hard to replicate the intensity of playoff games for sure,” Halpern said. “For the scrimmages, we have numbers and it takes our guys up and down the ice. That’s probably the biggest thing.”

Stamkos and defender Victor Hedman are the two remaining players from the last time Lightning had a long period between series. In 2011, they completed a four-game sweep of the Washington Capitals on May 4 and did not start the Eastern Conference Finals against the Boston Bruins until May 14. Tampa Bay won Game 1, but lost the series in seven games.

“It’s a lot of the same,” Stamkos said. “You can only do a few exercises during practice and add some light scrimmage. You really aren’t expecting that much time off at this time of year.”

Halpern said that Lightning will start to speed things up as the start of the next round approaches.

“Obviously, the intensity of our workouts will increase as we move into our first game,” he said. “But I think it’s fine if you go seven days, nine days between games just to go up and down the ice like that.”

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