TAMPA, Fla. (AP)—The Tampa Bay Lightning said all the right things.
Yes, they are confident their first-round playoff series against New Jersey will go the distance. No, it won’t be easy to overcome a 3-2 deficit against Devils goalie Martin Brodeur. And, yes, it would be nice—though not imperative — to get an offensive boost from someone not named Vincent Lecavalier or Martin St. Louis.
Game 6 is Sunday.
“We have to win. That’s what it comes down to,” Lightning forward Jason Ward said Saturday. “It doesn’t matter if it’s 1-0 and Vinny scores, or it’s 4-3 and four guys who haven’t scored at all score.”
Lecavalier and St. Louis combined for eight goals and six assists in the first four games of the best-of-seven series, however the high-scoring tandem was shut down in New Jersey’s 3-0 victory in Game 5 on Friday night.
After giving up three goals in each of the first four games, Brodeur made 31 saves to push Tampa Bay to the brink of elimination.
Throughout the series, Lightning coach John Tortorella has talked about the importance of the team’s best players performing like stars. He reiterated Saturday that another key to advancing in the playoffs is having less-heralded players step up their games as well.
“I think there’s still plenty of series left to see a surprise,” Tortorella said.
But time is running out.
Lecavalier and St. Louis have scored eight of the Lightning’s 12 goals. Although Vinny Prospal delivered the winner in a 3-2 victory in Game 3, there hasn’t been enough production from the supporting cast.
Tortorella benched Ruslan Fedotenko, one of the unsung heroes during Tampa Bay’s Stanley Cup run in 2004, for Game 5. The forward has no points in the series and has scored just one goal in his last 29 games.
“There’s pressure on everybody,” St. Louis said, adding that there’s still time for others to step up. “I think we feed off that as a team. But it doesn’t take the pressure off anybody. We all have pressure to do the best job we can.”
New Jersey’s confidence was bolstered with Brodeur reverting to the form that helped him become one of the best playoff goaltenders in history. Friday night’s victory moved him into a tie with Grant Fuhr for second place on the career postseason win list with 92.
The Devils insisted they were never concerned about the 34-year-old goalie, who had never before allowed three goals in four consecutive playoff games.
“There’s no question he’s the best in the game,” New Jersey’s Zach Parise said. “You knew eventually he was going to play like that.”
The Lightning outshot the Devils 31-14, however Brodeur got stronger as the game progressed.
“When the bounces are going your way, mentally you feel like you’re going to make the next stop,” Brodeur said, adding that he didn’t make any adjustments from the previous four games.
Brodeur noted the Devils played better defensively as a team, limiting Lecavalier and St. Louis’ scoring opportunities. New Jersey coach Lou Lamoriello stopped short of saying his team has figured out how to slow down the tandem.
“You’re talking about two elite players,” Lamoriello said. “But we know in our minds how we have to play as a team.”
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