Lightning-Bruins: Why it’s not as bad as it looked for Tampa Bay

Tampa Bay Lightning goaltender Andrei Vasilevskiy (88) remains down as the puck pounces out of the back of the need after Boston Bruins left wing Brad Marchand (63) scores a goal to go up 4 to 2 during third period action in game 1of NHL playoffs round 2 at Amalie Arena in Tampa Saturday, April 28, 2018. DIRK SHADD   |   Times
Tampa Bay Lightning goaltender Andrei Vasilevskiy (88) remains down as the puck pounces out of the back of the need after Boston Bruins left wing Brad Marchand (63) scores a goal to go up 4 to 2 during third period action in game 1of NHL playoffs round 2 at Amalie Arena in Tampa Saturday, April 28, 2018. DIRK SHADD | Times
Published April 28 2018
Updated April 28 2018

TAMPA — Here's the thing: It really wasn't that bad. And believe it or not, the Lightning isn't in as much trouble as you probably fear.

Yeah, I know what you're thinking. The Lightning lost the opening game of the second round playoff series Saturday to the Bruins and it might not be a bad idea to start looking for the button marked "Panic.''

And, well, yes, on paper Saturday's game looked bad. It didn't look all that swell on the ice either. The final score was decisive: 6-2. But it also might have been a little deceptive, too.

"I mean, other than the score,'' Lightning captain Steven Stamkos said, "I thought we played pretty well.''

Okay, that's sort of like saying, "Other than the guy in the hockey mask holding the machete, the summer at Camp Crystal Lake was awesome.''
But Stamkos isn't completely off his rocker. The Lightning wasn't nearly as bad as Saturday's score might suggest. It really played a decent game.

Was it good enough to win? Let's not go that far. It has plenty of work to do between now and Game 2 or it really will be in trouble. But the Lightning wasn't so bad that it should start packing up its hockey gear and start setting up tee times.

There really was an awful lot to like about the Lightning's Game 1. It out-shot the Bruins, 36-24. It had way more quality scoring chances. For good chunks of the game, Tampa Bay was the better team.

"I thought there were some times when we were playing a really good game,'' Lightning center Tyler Johnson said.

But there was plenty of awful, too. Like every other team in the National Hockey League, the Lightning appears to have no answer for Boston's superstar line of David Pastrnak, Patrice Bergeron and Brad Marchand. Sometimes you get the sense that those guys — who combined for a ridiculous three goals and eight assists in Game 1 — can score whenever they want. And they will if Tampa Bay doesn't button up on defense.

The Lightning also had no answer for Rick Nash, who has become something of a Lightning killer in the playoffs. He had two goals Saturday and now has five goals and four assists in eight postseason games against Tampa Bay.

"Anytime you give up that many,'' Lightning defenseman Ryan McDonagh said, "you got to correct some things.''

Oh, and one more bit of bad news for the Lightning: Boston goalie Tuukka Rask shook off whatever shakes he had in the last round and looked locked in Saturday, playing his best hockey in these playoffs. Half the goals Tampa Bay scored against him Saturday came when one of his skate blades fell off.
Hey, if Tampa Bay can somehow find a way to knock Marchand's skates off, it might be in business.

But accentuate the positive, right?

"I mean, we lost 6-2, so it doesn't matter how we feel about how we played,'' Lightning coach Jon Cooper said. "We're going to wake up in the morning, somebody is going to look at the score and say, 'Tampa is down 1-0.' Is there something that we can build off this game? No question. But they got six. We have to raise the level in our game to get back in the series.''

Maybe it's good that Cooper wasn't interested in finding silver linings. His locker room was pretty surly, too.

"Pretty tough right now,'' McDonagh said when asked if he thought the Lightning did some good things.

If you're looking for a glass that's half full, Tampa Bay does, indeed, have time to get back into the series. And that's the biggest takeaway of all. It's one game. Just one game.

"We'll look at this game,'' Johnson said. "We'll learn what we did right. We'll learn what we did wrong and change that. It's one game. That's why it's a seven-game series.''

No series was ever won in the first game, although it's safe to say that Game 2 is imperative for Tampa Bay. No way it can afford to go to Boston, something of a house of horrors over the years, down two games to none.
The final piece that Lightning can hang its helmets on? This isn't the first time Tampa Bay has looked to be in serious trouble in the postseason.

"We have a lot of experience,'' Johnson said. "We've been in this position before. … We're looking forward to the next game.''

This still looks like this has a good chance of being a long and competitive series. After all, Saturday really wasn't as bad as you think.

Contact Tom Jones at tjones@tampabay.com.  Follow @tomwjones

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