Thursday, September 20, 2018
Tampa Bay Lightning

Worried about how the Lightning closed Game 2? Read this

TAMPA — Lightning coach Jon Cooper will wake up Sunday and pop in a tape of Saturday afternoon's 5-3 victory against the Devils in Game 2.

"We'll be able to look at a lot of that tape and say we did really well,'' Cooper said. "And we'll look at some the tape and say that wasn't so good.''

In the end, it really doesn't matter what he sees. Here's what does matter: Who won the game?

That's the big question. That's the only question. Who won?

These are the playoffs, baby. Doesn't matter who dominated who. Or which team out-shot the other. Or which team had more chances or deserved to win.

Lightning played great in the first period? So what.

Lightning played awful in the third? Who cares?

Just give me the final score.

"In the end,'' Lightning forward Alex Killorn said, "we won the game.''

What else do you need to know? Because of its victory, the Lightning takes a commanding 2-0 series lead to New Jersey for Games 3 and 4.

See, this isn't about pats on the back and attaboys for good efforts. We're not passing out orange slices and snow cones after the game. They keep score for a reason and only one reason.

"Our job was to get two wins,'' Lightning forward Brayden Point said.

Consider it a job well-done. Okay, just like Game 1, the Lightning didn't exactly play perfect hockey for 60 minutes.

For a half a game Saturday, the Lightning was spectacular, jumping out to a 5-1 lead. The other half, the Lightning was hanging on for dear life. Now, if it floats your boat, feel free to dissect how Game 2 almost slipped away from Tampa Bay. Go ahead and wring your hands, furrow your brows and rub your temples over how the Lightning played as a blowout turned into a 5-3 nail-biter.

But you should know that's not what was going on in the Lightning locker room after the game.

"It's the playoffs, so really you're just focusing on the win,'' Lightning center Tyler Johnson said. "You can walk out of the game feeling good that you won.''

Maybe in the regular season, you worry about how a team is trending. You can sometimes see something happen in one game and wonder how it will translate to the next game, week and month.

The playoffs are different. A series is broken up into separate chapters, one often having nothing to do with the previous one and offering no insight into the next. And a playoff series isn't long enough to worry that a trend will eventually catch up with you. Each game is played in a vacuum.

"Exactly,'' Killorn said. "I mean, there's always process throughout a series. But, we're not too worried about it. Our job was win to win two games here and we did that.''

If you are looking for positive signs, it's that the Lightning is getting contributions from everybody in these first two games. Killorn and Johnson are on fire, just like always in the playoffs. Ondrej Palat is tied for the team lead in points with four. Kids such as Point and Yanni Gourde are all over the ice. Hedman is a beast, as usual.

But the really good sign for Tampa Bay is the play of its top two scorers. Not that they've been playing poorly, but Nikita Kucherov and Steven Stamkos looked like, well, Nikita Kucherov and Steven Stamkos on Saturday. Kucherov's hustled his way into a fluky goal to spark a one-goal, two-assist performance. Stamkos added an assist.

The downside of Saturday was the Lightning lost two key veterans to injury. Gritty forward and leader Ryan Callahan looks to have re-aggravated a right shoulder that has been giving him problems for a while now. And defenseman Dan Girardi left the game with an unknown injury. The Lightning certainly missed those guys in the third.

And as far as the Lightning fumbling its way through the third period?

"Somebody else has a vote out there,'' Cooper said.

He was talking about the Devils. Let's not forget, the Devils did rack up 97 points this season.

"That's a lot of points,'' Cooper said. "You don't fluke your way into 97 points. They're a really good team. … And we're a darn good team ourselves. There's going to be battles. There's going to be swings of momentum. But the big thing for me: who won the game?''

Big thing? It's the only thing.

Contact Tom Jones at [email protected] Follow @tomwjones

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