Lightning hopes to work its Game 2 bounce-back magic

Washington Capitals center Lars Eller (20) celebrates his second-period goal against the Lightning in Game 1 in the Eastern Conference final. (DIRK SHADD   |   Times)
Washington Capitals center Lars Eller (20) celebrates his second-period goal against the Lightning in Game 1 in the Eastern Conference final. (DIRK SHADD | Times)
Published May 13 2018

TAMPA — Lightning coach Jon Cooper was asked Sunday morning if he planned any changes for tonight's game against the Capitals.

"No," he said.

Then he added, "The only changes needed is everyone has to play way better."

The Lightning faced the Capitals in what was officially Game 2 of the Eastern Conference final, though it could have gone by another name: bounce-back day.

After its performance in Friday's 4-2 loss, the Lightning needed to do just that or find itself down 0-2 in the best-of-seven series that shifts to Washington D.C. for Games 3 and 4.

Luckily for the Lightning, bouncing back in Game 2 after a Game 1 loss is something it has nearly mastered.

The Lightning has dropped Game 1 seven times under Cooper. It evened the series five times in the next game and continued on to win four of the six series in which it dropped the first game.

Lightning general manager Steve Yzerman acquired veteran forward Chris Kunitz and veteran defenseman Dan Girardi in the offseason, then added veteran defenseman Ryan McDonagh and veteran center J.T. Miller at the trade deadline to fill some needs in the lineup and to add playoff experience to the roster.

The Lightning will need to rely on that experience tonight.

"I think we have a veteran group who's been through a lot of this before, dealt with being down in series, not having a great game in a playoff game then coming back and responding," forward Ryan Callahan said. "This isn't a situation we want to be in after not having our best effort in Game 1, but now we have to respond."

The question is: How?

The answer?

"Respond. Play the way we can. It's not a new recipe. It's not reinventing the wheel here," Callahan said. "We just have to play like we know how."

Use its speed to create mismatches on the ice. Play better defense. Be more aggressive on offense. Shoot more. Stay out of the penalty box. Do a better of protecting the net and making things easier for goalie Andrei Vasilevskiy.

Those parts of the Lightning game — the parts that served it so well during the first two rounds — were missing Friday.

The Lightning did not help itself early Game 1 when it had the puck in the offensive zone but did not put it on net. The Lightning finished the period down 2-0 with the second goal coming with 2 seconds remaining after a too many men on the ice penalty by Nikita Kucherov led to a faceoff in front of Vasilevskiy and a quick power play goal by Alex Ovechkin.

But, had the Lightning been more aggressive with the puck when it had it in front of the Washington net, who knows how the period would have played out.

"To be honest, I think that set a little bit of a negative tone to our game, especially in the first five or six minutes," Cooper said. "We had chances and didn't shoot. There were 10 minutes in the game I looked up and I don't know if we had a shot yet. We were in their zone a considerable amount of time, so for sure that has to change."

It is a good trait for a team to respond to a bad Game 1 loss. The Lightning did just that in Game 2 against the Bruins, when it won the first of four-straight to close out the series.

Cooper said he knows of a better trait.

"Don't have a bad first game and then we don't have to answer those questions," Cooper said. "It's unfortunate we put ourselves in this position to bounce back because it's a dangerous business when you're down by playing a bad first game. The guys, it's kind of been a little bit of a habit for them that when they've been pushed against the wall they usually respond."

But, as Cooper often says when referring to the other team, the Capitals have a vote in what happened in Game 2. Caps coach Barry Trotz said Saturday morning that he expected some push-back from the Lightning in Game 2. He expected his team to pick up their intensity, as well.

"Do I anticipate us playing a better game? I do. But I anticipate Washington playing a better game, too," Cooper said. "They're looking at right now, they can go up 2-0. What an advantage it would be for them. Definitely the pressure is on us, but the boys have responded well, and I think they'll do it again."

Contact Roger Mooney at [email protected] Follow @rogermooney50.