Two-time defending champion Lightning chasing NHL history

The Tampa Bay Lightning don’t want to get ahead of themselves in their bid to become the first team in 40 years to win three consecutive Stanley Cup titles.

The two-time defending champions are up 2-0 on the Presidents Trophy-winning Florida Panthers in the Eastern Conference semifinals yet understand there’s still a lot of work to do as they pursue a special place in NHL history.

The Lightning have won four straight games to move from the brink of elimination in the first round to having an opportunity to take a commanding series lead when they host Game 3 in Tampa, Florida, on Sunday (1:30 p.m. EDT, TNT).

“Guys have done a hell of a job to put us where we are, but we’re far from done in this series,” coach Jon Cooper reiterated.

The Panthers, the league’s top team during the regular season, say there’s still a lot of fight left in them.

The New York Rangers, down 2-0 to the Carolina Hurricanes in the other Eastern Conference semifinal that continues Sunday, are singing a similar tune after losing the first two games of that matchup on the road.

“We have a great opportunity. We win a game, everything changes,” Florida interim coach Andrew Brunette said.

“We’ve played really well on the road all year,” Brunette added. “There’s no reason why we can’t go there and play our best game.”

The Panthers’ hopes are bolstered by the fact they won twice on the road on the way to eliminating the Washington Capitals in the first round.

Ross Colton’s goal with 3.8 seconds remaining won Game 2. To come back and win the best-of-seven series, Florida will have to take four of five games from the defending champs over the next week.

That is a tall order against any opponent, much less a proud, resilient team that hasn’t lost consecutive playoff games in three years.

The Lightning feel they can — and must — play better.

“Our game has been far from perfect. We had a magical moment happen with 3.8 seconds left, and that gave us a game, but that could easily have gone to overtime,” Cooper said.

“We feel great, obviously, where we are in this series,” the coach added. “But (if) we hang our hat on that … it won’t work out for us.”

Losing in the first round in 2019 was a source of motivation during the Lightning’s Stanley Cup run two years ago.

In 2021, they repeated as champions with a roster that’s changed significantly this season due to salary cap restrictions.

This year’s playoffs are about enhancing the Lightning’s legacy.

The last team to win three consecutive Stanley Cup titles was the New York Islanders, who won four in a row from 1980-83.

“We are in the history books, and we’re going to go down as two-time champs. It’s not like people do that every day. It rarely happens. But to do three, now you’re becoming one of the best teams of the decades,” Cooper said.

“When you think in generations, there’s the 80’s Islanders, and the 80’s Oilers or the 70’s Montreal Canadiens. Whatever they’re calling this last decade in years to come, it’ll be the whatever Lightning,” Cooper added. “That’s what we’re chasing.”

HURRICANES at BRUINS, Carolina leads series 2-0 (3:30 p.m. EDT, ESPN)

The Carolina Hurricanes need to figure out how to win on the road. The New York Rangers need to find the back of the net.

The Hurricanes won the first two games to improve to 6-0 at home in the playoffs going back to their seven-game first-round series against the Boston Bruins. But they lost all three games in Boston with mistake- and penalty-filled performances in a series that went the distance.

The Hurricanes don’t want a repeat against the Rangers after winning three of four regular-season meetings, including one in the final week of the regular season at Madison Square Garden to win the Metropolitan Division title.

The series has been one full of tight defense and little space to operate, a departure from the more up-and-down style that coach Rod Brind’Amour said he had anticipated. The Rangers have 49 shots through two games and the Hurricanes have just 48, with quality scoring chances proving hard to come by.

The Rangers, meanwhile, have managed one goal through two games. They have now gone nearly two full games (116 minutes, 5 seconds of game action) without a goal since Filip Chytil’s first-period score in Game 1.

“We just got to find a way to generate more. We’ve done it first round, all year,” Rangers forward Frank Vatrano said. ’The playoffs, that space is harder to get, so we got to find that extra bounce, just that extra space to create offense.”

FLAMES at OILERS, Series tied 1-1 (8 p.m. EDT, ESPN2)

The “Battle of Alberta” shifts to Edmonton for Games 3 and 4 after the teams combined to score 23 goals in the first two — most through Game 2 of a series in 35 years.

The Oilers scored four straight to rally from a 3-1 deficit and even the Western Conference semifinal matchup Friday night.

Calgary’s Tyler Toffoli hardly recognizes the version of the Flames that’s shown up the past two games.

“Since I’ve been here we’ve done a really good job of playing our type of hockey,” said Toffoli, who was acquired from the Montreal Canadiens in February. “The past two games here we haven’t really been playing to our foundation. It’s been getting away from us.”

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AP Sports Writers Aaron Beard and Vinay Cherwoo contributed to this report.

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