Monday, September 24, 2018
Tampa Bay Lightning

Lightning report card: Overall, an excellent start to Cup journey

TAMPA — Gentlemen, start your playoff beards.

The Lightning began its Stanley Cup journey Thursday night at Amalie Arena, a forced march that, if successful, will unite a community. Hockey Bay.

Yes, it's time for everyone out there to start calling them Stammer and Heddy and Kuch and Vasy and Cally and on and on. Please study these nicknames and commit them to memory. There will be a test before the next round, if there is one.

Thursday was for Game 1 against the New Jersey Devils. Thursday was for a 5-2 win, a solid enough beginning, the Lightning playing like a top seed, playing its way, with the Brayden Point line scoring twice against the Taylor Hall line, no major defensive breakdowns. And then enough to withstand a strong Jersey surge in the second half of the game. It was a generally good night for goalie Andrei Vasilevskiy. And to think New Jersey swept the season series. This just in: It's the playoffs.

For starters

A: The Lightning needed to break out fast in this series and it did. It kept on the forecheck and put early  pressure on the Devils and it eventually paid off, as Tyler Johnson slipped a pass to Ondrej Palat, who flipped a backhander past Devils goalie Keith Kinkaid for a 1-0 lead late in the first period. Palat had three-point night.

Here’s Johnny! Again.

A: Remember when Tyler Johnson was king of the world? It was 2015, Johnson was a scoring machine and might have helped lead the Lightning to the Cup if it hadn't been for a wrist injury in Game 1 of the Stanley Cup final against Chicago. But it was like old times Thursday, vintage Johnson as he scored a goal and added an assist as his line powered the Lightning to a 2-0 lead. Added bonus: Johnson's chest up against the glass with a female fan. Oh, those playoff moments.

Follow the bouncing puck

C: We don't know if it was the guy who shaved the ice  before the game or the guy who was supposed to freeze the pucks or just plain bad luck, but the rubber went the wrong way, popping up just enough on Lightning center Yanni Gourde after he broke in and deked goalie Kinkaid out of his pads. No goal for Gourde, but the Bolts rookie brought his game, and scored a power-play goal in the second period.

Lightning center Brayden Point celebrates a goal by Yanni Gourde that beats Devils goaltender Keith Kinkaid during the second period. [DOUGLAS R. CLIFFORD      Times]

The not so good

D: The penalty kill, a Lightning weakness, bit the team in the third period, when the Devils pounced after J.T. Miller took a penalty. Hall assisted on the goal. The Hart Trophy candidate finished with a two-point night. This just in: He'll be here all series.

O, say, you can’t beat this

A: Wednesday night, the expansion Las Vegas Golden Knights began their first playoff game with a floor show straight out of Sin City and the MGM Grand: drum lines, men in shining armor, sword fights, everything but a human sacrifice (trouble with the fire marshal, apparently). All the Lightning could throw up against that was an old favorite, retired Air Force technical sergeant Sonya Bryson belting out her no-frills rendition of the national anthem while the ice shimmered with a projected American flag. Keep your swords. Give me Sonya any day. Could have done without the fan clap paddles, though. Fake noise. Whatever happened to putting your hands together?

Sonya Bryson is projected on the scoreboard as players lineu p for the singing of the national anthem. (Dirk Shadd, Times)

So far, so good

B-: The defense had its lapses, but Vasilevskiy stood tall enough as the Lightning held off Hall and the New Jersey attack, though Hall did strike for a second-period goal and Jersey spent too much time in the Lightning end. Ryan McDonagh threw in an assist when not showing why he was brought here: defense. When you can have either McDonagh or Victor Hedman on the ice all game, you've got something good.

Still to come?

D: The only thing that wasn't just what the doctor ordered were the nights of 100-point man Nikita Kucherov and the rusty Steven Stamkos, at least to start off. Neither had a point, and not many shots, until late in the game, when Kucherov put it into the empty net. A good way to cap the night, but this team can't go far without one or both of these men.

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