It is only Game 2 of their Eastern Conference series, but the Florida Panthers are well aware the direction this journey will likely take if they drop Thursday's home clash with the Tampa Bay Lightning in Sunrise, Fla.
The Panthers must respond from Tuesday's 4-1 home defeat in the second-round series. Florida trailed 2-0 in last year's best-of-seven series with Tampa Bay and was dispatched by the Lightning en route to their second consecutive Stanley Cup title.
"We know how to win against this team. We've done it before," Panthers forward Anthony Duclair said. "We've just got to play with the puck more."
The Panthers, the Presidents' Trophy winners, have lost seven consecutive playoff series openers, including this year's first-round victory over the Washington Capitals.
Duclair's first-period goal opened the scoring, but the Lightning responded with four unanswered tallies, three in the third period.
The Lightning notched three power-play goals on six chances while the Panthers were blanked on three opportunities.
The Panthers must do a better job of staying out of the penalty box, but they need their power play to start converting. They have been blanked on all 21 man-advantage opportunities in the playoffs so far, a shocking result for a team which ranked fifth in the league with a 24.4 percent rate in the regular season.
"We can shoot more," coach Andrew Brunette said. "We talk about it. We're getting a little stubborn at times. You get out of sync in these kinds of things, and it's hard to get your mojo back. When you have it you have to keep it, and right now we have to find it. It starts with a shot."
The Lightning have won three straight games and appear to be rolling much like they have in past seasons, especially goaltender Andrei Vasilevskiy and Nikita Kucherov.
Vasilevskiy struggled through the first five of his team's seven-game series win over the Toronto Maple Leafs, but he has responded with three consecutive stout performances, including a 33-save outing on Tuesday.
"It's the saves you make in the biggest times and Vas seems to do that," Lightning coach Jon Cooper said. "I know in the Toronto series he gave up more than he wants at times, but look at the saves he makes at the times we need them. That's what great goaltenders do."
Kucherov was the catalyst at the other end. He set up Corey Perry's late second-period goal with a highlight-reel move to elude Florida defenseman Aaron Ekblad and added a power-play goal.
"He likes to do it on his own at times too and try to take over in his ways. ... We've seen it time and time again," defenseman Ryan McDonagh said. "The guy just loves playing playoff hockey and stepping up for our team when we need him."
Lightning defenseman Erik Cernak left Tuesday's game late in the second period after blocking a shot, but he practiced fully on Wednesday. Fellow defenseman Zach Bogosian didn't practice but is expected to play.
Tampa Bay will be without forward Brayden Point, who was injured in Game 7 of the Toronto game. He was ruled out Wednesday.
The Panthers will likely be without forward Mason Marchment due to a lower-body injury suffered in the opening round. He has missed three games.
--Field Level Media