Lightning work through pluses and minuses of long gap between playoff rounds

TAMPA — With their second-round playoff sweep of the Panthers, the Lightning earned themselves eight days off before the start of the Eastern Conference final, which will open Wednesday against the Hurricanes or Rangers.

The Lightning closed out the Panthers on Monday and are using the time off to heal from physical series against them and the Maple Leafs in the first round. But Tampa Bay — winner of six straight games, having returned from the brink of elimination against the Maple Leafs to sweeping the league’s top regular-season team — also wants to keep going.

“Our group needed (rest) regardless of what happens,” coach Jon Cooper said. “We needed it; we needed to heal. We’ve gone through a couple of wars here in our series, so it’s pivotal for us to have this break now.

“The downside of it is no matter what you do in practice, you’re not even going to come close to emulating what goes on in a playoff game: the intensity … the compete. So you do lose that. You just hope you don’t lose your edge. We’ve got enough of a veteran group here, we should be able to get through that.”

With the NHL announcing the start day for the East final late Friday, the Lightning rarely have had so much time off between series. In the 2010-11 postseason, Tampa Bay had nine days between a sweep of Washington in the second round…

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