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Lightning vow to avoid all manner of traps vs. Penguins in Game 6

TAMPA, Fla. – Evgeni Malkin said it, on the eve of Game 6 in the Eastern Conference Final: “I believe in my team. I believe in myself. We can come back to Pittsburgh for sure.” 

You might need a taffy pull to stretch that to a Game 6 guarantee, but that’s still one of the Pittsburgh Penguins veteran leaders saying the series could surely go seven games.

“Let’s be honest: What’s he supposed to say? ‘Oh, we’re done, we’re just going down there for a formality?’” asked Tampa Bay Lightning coach Jon Cooper, moments after his team stepped off their plane onto home terra firma Monday morning.

“Of course they’re going to say they’re going to win. They’re a good team and a confident group. But we feel the same way. Look, you gotta win four. We’re a little bit closer to four than they are, but you gotta win four. And that’s all our group is thinking about.”

The Lightning had a chance to win that fourth game in Game 6 last season too, against the New York Rangers at Amalie Arena. Instead, the Rangers blew the doors off them, winning 7-3 after taking a 5-1 lead by the 7:13 mark of the third period.

“It’s one of those games that you want to forget right away, so I don’t remember too much,” admitted defenseman Jason Garrison. “We came out flat. In this league, you can’t get behind that many goals.”

Cooper said there was a bit of a premature victory lap last season for the Lightning.

“The natural inclination was ‘we’re going home, we’re going to close this out.’ And they blew us out, and we had our tails between our legs going back for Game 7,” he said. The Lightning shut out the Rangers, 2-0, at Madison Square Garden in Game 7 to advance to the Stanley Cup Final.

“If there’s one thing we had to have learned from last year it’s what happened in Game 6 against the Rangers. Our mindset going into the game has to be different,” said Cooper.

So no victory laps this time, even if Lightning fans crowded the team's airstrip to welcome back their victorious heroes on Monday. 

“We saw this last year. With every round, it gets bigger and bigger. It’s quite remarkable. We’ve gotten back around 3 a.m. and there are hundreds and hundreds of fans out there cheering us on," said Cooper. “We’re not by ourselves in this. We have a huge following in Tampa that we appreciate.”

The Lightning anticipate the Penguins will be relentless in Game 6, facing elimination.  “We’d be kidding ourselves if we thought they weren’t going to come with everything they’ve got in the next game,” said forward Alex Killorn on Sunday.

There’s a slim chance their goalie might be different, too. In a move of either gamesmanship or careful consideration, Penguins coach Mike Sullivan declined to name a starter for Game 6 on Monday.

Does Cooper expect to see Marc-Andre Fleury get a second straight start, or for the Penguins to flip back to rookie Matt Murray?

“Ugh, that is such a trap question,” said Cooper. “I don’t know. I guess in the back of my head, if you were in that situation, what would you do? I don’t know. I guess I’ll have to answer that question after the series is over, what I would have done.”

It could be over in Game 6 if the Lightning don’t repeat the mistakes of the past.

“Sometimes the last game to finish things off is the hardest. We have to come out like we did in Game 4, carry the play the whole game,” said defenseman Andrej Sustr.

“Hopefully we learned from it last year and we can close it out at home.”

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Greg Wyshynski is a writer for Yahoo Sports. Contact him at puckdaddyblog@yahoo.com or find him on Twitter. His book, TAKE YOUR EYE OFF THE PUCK, is available on Amazon and wherever books are sold.

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