TAMPA – Losing Game 1 of a playoff series isn’t a novelty for the Tampa Bay Lightning.
They lost Game 1 against the Detroit Red Wings in Round 1. They lost Game 1 to the New York Rangers in the Eastern Conference Final. In between, they needed two overtimes to outlast the Montreal Canadiens in Game 1 of the conference semifinal.
“You wake up this morning and you should be a little angry. A little pissed off. You shouldn’t have any regrets in the morning about the way you play, and I think this morning we do,” said forward Brian Boyle.
For the first time this season, the Lightning lost a game in regulation in which they had a lead entering the third period, having previously gone 41-0-2. How did they lose? By sitting squarely on their lead instead of displaying the offensive swagger that kept the Blackhawks in their own zone earlier in the game.
“It is a fine line. Everyone was trying to do the right thing. It was pretty much a perfect game plan in the first two periods,” said captain Steven Stamkos. “We come into the third period with a one-goal lead, and our first thought is trying to defend it."
But in the past, the best defense was still a combination of “remembering their net” in the defensive zone while using their speed and skill to possess the puck at the other end of the ice.
“We’ve had different scenarios throughout the playoffs when we’ve done that, but we’ve continued to pressure. We just didn’t do that last game,” said Stamkos. “And we gave a team that’s very skilled and talented, and knows what to do in those situations, we gave them the puck. And the rest is history.”
Here’s how the even strength possession rates shifted as the game went on, via Natural Stat Trick:
The Blackhawks had already thoroughly tilted the ice by the time Teuvo Teravainen scored on a seeing-eye shot from near the blue line and then stole the puck from J.T. Brown to set up Antoine Vermette’s goal less than two minutes later.
“It certainly wasn’t the way we wanted to play,” said Boyle. “We were a little too cautious. We need to understand that we can lock it down, but play our game: Skate it forward, forecheck, take the puck out of their hands.”
So why didn’t they? Coach Jon Cooper insists they weren’t intimidated by the Blackhawks, who have a roster of players that could easily find a way to erase a one-goal lead in the third period.
Instead, he believes that the Lightning might have not given the Blackhawks enough credit, playing the type of conservative, third-period trap game that worked against lesser offensive opponents in the Eastern Conference playoffs.
Which is fine when your opponents are the Rangers (2.37 GPG), Montreal (2.08) and Detroit (2.14). Not so much when it’s Chicago (3.22 GPG, third in the playoffs).
“A little bit of human nature might have taken over,” said Cooper.
“What had worked for us in the past … maybe we sat back and thought ‘OK, maybe this will work for us again.’ As I look back on the tape, we didn’t give up a ton to them, although we gave up a lot of time of possession. Unfortunately, it was the turnovers. Regardless if we have the puck or not, if you turn the puck over in those areas, the puck is probably going to end up in the net.”
So the Lightning played a great 40 minutes, a passive 20 minutes, and find themselves down 1-0 in the Stanley Cup Final.
But just as struggling in Game 1 has personified their playoff run, so has rebounding in Game 2: 3-0, having outscored their opponents by a 17-5 count.
“It’s another learning experience. We found out that if we’re to play too passive against Chicago in the third period, it’s not going to work out too well for us,” said Cooper.
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