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Cooper to Bolts: 'If you’re not going to believe, you don’t have to come'


The Tampa Bay Lightning are staring down a first-round exit for the second straight spring as they trail the Florida Panthers 3-0.

Eliminated in six games by the Toronto Maple Leafs last year after three straight runs to the Stanley Cup Final, the Lightning suffered a 5-3 loss to the Panthers in Game 3, putting their backs up against the wall.

"It's tough when you get in situations like this ... what you're going to say right at this moment," Lightning head coach Jon Cooper said. "But the talk was we want the believers to show up at the rink tomorrow and if you’re not going to believe, you don’t have to come. So, we’ll see who shows up tomorrow."

Margin for error is now razor thin for the Lightning, who lost both Games 1 and 2 by a score of 3-2 and only allowed an empty-netter 32 seconds left to miss out another one-goal loss Thursday.

After falling behind 1-0 after 20 minutes in Game 3, the Lightning quickly took a 2-1 less than three minutes into the second frame, but exited that period down 3-2.

“I thought we played maybe the best 10 minutes of the series right there,” Lightning captain Steven Stamkos said of the second-period stretch. “We were controlling the play. Physically, I thought we were on top of it finally and then yeah, I mean it’s just little mistakes that are either costing us and that’s the difference at this time of the year.

"It’s just that we basically played three one-goal games and they’ve gotten the better of us.”

A pending unrestricted free agent, Stamkos could potentially be playing the final games of his 16-year tenure with the Lightning. The two-time Stanley Cup winner has three goals and four points in three games this postseason, scoring in each of the three losses. The 34-year-old forward had 40 goals and 81 points in 79 games during the regular season.

“They’re doing a lot of good things, that’s a very, very good hockey team over there that plays with a style that you need to play to win at this time of year, no question about that,” Stamkos continued. “We still believe we can go out and win the next game and that’s what we need to do, focus on one game.”

The Lightning will try to keep their season alive in Game 4 on Saturday.