Lightning hope Avalanche’s arrival sparks them

TAMPA — No one needed reminding on Wednesday, but as the Lightning had a day off to recover it was certainly on their minds.

It wasn’t even eight full months ago that the Avalanche scratched out a win at Amalie Arena in Game 6 of the Stanley Cup final, ending Tampa Bay’s run of back-to-back championships. So, it’s still a pretty vivid memory for this group, even with the roster turnover from last season.

So, there will be a little extra something in the air when the teams face each other for the first time since that Cup final Thursday night at Amalie Arena.

“We know what’s at stake, and we know what happened last year,” Lightning forward Corey Perry said after Tuesday’s overtime loss to the Sharks. “It’s the two teams that were in the final, and so now it’s gonna be hyped up and it’s gonna be fun. It’s gonna be exciting.

“And it’s gonna be a good test for us to see where we’re at.”

Maybe that challenge is what Tampa Bay needs at this point of the season to get back on track.

The Lightning were just swept in back-to-back games coming out of the All-Star break. They were embarrassed 7-1 by the Panthers Monday in Sunrise and on Tuesday let the Sharks rally from two goals down to beat them in overtime.

There is certainly some evidence that the Lightning respond to big games and challenges like this.

Their current two-game losing streak snapped what had been an impressive run heading into the break. The Lightning played three straight playoff-caliber teams, including the NHL-leading Bruins. They swept that stretch by also beating the Wild and Kings — all at Amalie Arena, where they are 20-4-2 this season.

Thursday’s game against the Avalanche is the start of another test for the Lightning, who play only five of their 12 February games at home. After the rematch with Colorado, Tampa Bay heads to Dallas and then to Denver to see the Avalanche again. The Lightning are just 12-12-0 on the road so far this season.

“I’m confident in our group just because we’ve had success on back-to-back losses,” Lightning coach Jon Cooper said. “We’re playing the Colorado Avalanche, the defending champs, and they’re healthy. And then we’re going on the road to play Dallas and then Colorado again — probably people may predict (those two teams) to be in the Western Conference final — and so we’re gonna have to put our work boots on and man up here.

“We don’t want this to get worse than it already is.”

Monday was just ugly and can be at least partly explained by the eight days without a game. Tuesday, the Lightning got out to a good start before getting out of their groove. They were just 1-for-6 on the power play, and their penalty kill let a Sharks team that went into the game with just 10 power-play goals on the road this season score two with fewer than six minutes of man-advantage time.

Cooper and the Lightning, however, have reason to be confident they will respond. The Bolts have lost back-to-back games just six times this season and have not lost three in a row. Tampa Bay has, however, lost back-to-back games twice in their last seven games.

That history allowed the Lightning and Perry to be confident Wednesday, as he used the off day to clear his mind and rest his body.

“I’ll take the day off, and then come Thursday it starts in the morning and it starts with that pregame skate and all the meetings,” Perry said. “And we’ll figure everything out from there.”

And while seeing the Avalanche back in Amalie Arena for the first time since that 2-1 loss on June 26 may be the emotional jolt the Lightning need right now, Cooper sees it as just another step in his team’s journey.

“We’re not winning the Cup. Neither one is winning the Cup on Thursday night,” Cooper said. “We’re just trying to play well and to make sure we’re both in the playoffs.”

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