Thursday, June 21, 2018
Tampa Bay Lightning

Lightning-Capitals: How things look at the corner of Panic and Stricken

BRANDON — Here we are again, on the edge of the cliff, at the corner of panic and stricken, with the Lightning down 1-0 again, this time in its Eastern Conference final with Washington.

You know what that means, Lightning fans. Another day between games, with the lads talking about how this is where leadership and character show, and how they just have to play their game, get back to what got them here.

Sometimes I wish these guys didn't wear themselves out skating and hitting each other. That way there would be no off days and players wouldn't have to sit around talking. Just get back out there.

You would think that this hockey town would be hip to all this by now. Each win isn't the mountaintop. Each loss isn't the earth opening and swallowing you.

It's playoff hockey.

If there's one thing I've learned over the years about the rhythm of a playoff series is that there is no rhythm in a playoff series. Rhyme and reason join it on the bench. Just get back out there.

Stop trying to figure it all out already.

I just watched Winnipeg beat Nashville in Nashville in a Game 7. The home team in these playoffs has a losing record. The Capitals began the postseason by losing two home games. In 2015, the last time the Lightning won the Eastern Conference final, it took Game 5 at the Rangers, lost Game 6 at home, then won Game 7 in New York.

Stop trying to figure this out.

"I stopped in 2014. We got swept by Montreal," Lightning coach Jon Cooper said after Game 1 against the Capitals.

So pardon the Lightning if it is neither panicked nor stricken after dropping Game 1 on Friday night. It is concerned but not cowered, though it was slightly humorous that Cooper spoke after practice Saturday in the birthday room at the Ice Sport Forum, in front of a wall decorated with colored balloons. Game 1 was no party.

"They outplayed us, they outchanced us, they outscored us, they out everything'd us," Cooper said Friday night.

But he didn't appear worried. And I didn't find Andrei Vasilevskiy, yanked from Game 1, wandering about the halls Saturday, muttering, "I'm a-scared, I'm a-scared."

It's the playoffs.

Ups and downs are the norm.

I still say the Lightning wins the series.

Even if it loses Sunday in Game 2, it can win the series.

It's the playoffs.

Relax.

Win Game 2 and Lightning fans' tummies stop rumbling, and then they'd talk about sweeping in D.C.

It can all turn like that.

It makes no sense at all.

It makes perfect sense.

It's the playoffs.

It's the end of the world or a new dawn.

Growing up, I was a New York Islanders fan. At one point, the Islanders won the Stanley Cup four consecutive seasons. And I can tell you for a fact that each time they lost a game during those Cup years — which they rarely did — I thought they'd never win the next game.

It was wrenching.

It was awful.

And it was fabulous.

There is no getting around what happened in Game 1 for the Lightning. That it happened in the last series, against Boston, made it look worse.

"You don't expect to have the same thing happen again," Lightning defenseman Dan Girardi said.

"We can't keep playing with fire," Cooper said.

Look up the definition of fire in the dictionary. Alex Ovechkin's picture is under it.

It's the playoffs.

The Lightning, as Cooper put it, showed up for Game 1 of the conference final as if was Game 48 during the regular season. But it wasn't.

No matter.

I didn't have the Caps in one before this series. I had Lightning in six.

Still do.

"One thing about playoffs is that it's every other night," Girardi said. "You better have a short memory."

It's Game 2. The sky is falling. Actually, it isn't.

Friday night, Washington coach Barry Trotz, who guided his team to the conference final for the first time in two decades, summed up his team's remarkable effort in Tampa after the Big Happy of slaying Pittsburgh — and maybe captured the essence of Stanley Cup craziness.

"We were just trying to earn the right to keep playing, nothing more," Trotz said.

That's the Lightning's mission in Game 2.

There are pins and needles for its fans. A loss and it's the end of the world. A win and the parade is back on.

It's the worst.

It's the best.

It's the playoffs.

More from Martin Fennelly

Phil Esposito on the Russians: 'Everyone's the same. They want the Cup'

What the Lightning's success says about the New York Rangers

How a Lightning fan's Humboldt Broncos tribute is catching on

Contact Martin Fennelly at [email protected] or (813) 731-8029. Follow @mjfennelly.

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