Sunday, November 19, 2017
Tampa Bay Lightning

Fennelly: Lightning effort for first 40 minutes inexcusable (w/video)

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TAMPA — Does Jonathan Drouin ever get tired of being in the middle of everything?

Enough of that.

As much as it took the wind from its sails, the Lightning needs to forget about the offsides call that wiped out a Drouin goal that would have been the first of Tuesday night. This is no time for blowhard complaining.

Whatever happened to its mental toughness that got it here?

How do you not show up for two periods?

The Lightning rallied, eventually, behind two Brian Boyle goals but still came up well short in Game 6 of the Eastern Conference final, losing 5-2 to the Pittsburgh Penguins. Those last 20 minutes made the first 40 that much more appalling.

Inexcusable.

It did know it had a chance for a trip to the Stanley Cup final, right?

"If you're not at your best, it's near impossible to win. We paid for it tonight," Boyle said.

Inexcusable.

So it's on to Game 7 of the Eastern Conference final on Thursday night, back in Pittsburgh, just as Penguins star Evgeni Malkin predicted.

The Lightning made the guy look like the prophet Evgeni.

Great.

What the Lightning needs to remember is how lousy it was in the first and second periods. It was down 3-0 before it awoke in the third.

The Lightning needs to remember how the Penguins took this game over for two periods. The Lightning didn't begin to match Pittsburgh's intensity. No jam. No jump. No win. Inexcusable.

The Lightning was outshot 14-4 in that first period. It had 11 shots through two periods.

"A lot of one and dones, not getting a lot of pucks through," winger Ryan Callahan said.

Pittsburgh's best players were its best players. Sidney Crosby had a goal and an assist. Two of the Lightning's best players stumbled.

Tampa Bay went two men down when Anton Stralman and Victor Hedman went to the penalty box, Stralman for interference, Hedman for delay of game during the penalty kill.

Shortly thereafter: Penguins goal. That man, Phil Kessel, again. 1-0. It went from there.

Now there's another Game 7, another hill to climb.

Understand, the Lightning climbed one just like that last playoffs. It was blown out at home by the Rangers in Game 6 of the Eastern Conference final to force a Game 7 at Madison Square Garden. The Lightning won 2-0 to make the Stanley Cup final, Ben Bishop was in goal. Only there's no Bishop in sight at the moment.

"We had a great chance tonight," Boyle said. "We kind of tiptoed around it. We weren't aggressive. We weren't on top of it. We weren't skating."

Where was the compete the first two periods? Where was the sustained time in the Penguins' end? Also, Penguins goalie Matt Murray, back in net, was very, very good.

Wasted was a fairly solid performance by 21-year-old Andrei Vasilevskiy, who kept the Lightning in the game as best he could. But where was the help?

It was a bad night to lay an egg. Especially after all this team had overcome on the way to Game 6. The Lightning has been without Steven Stamkos, its leading goal scorer, all playoffs, and without Bishop, its Vezina Trophy finalist, since Game 1 of this series.

Lightning coach Jon Cooper will need to bring his team back physically and mentally. History suggests this team is very good at Game 7s. It even won a Game 7 at Pittsburgh in 2011, completing a comeback from 3-1 down to take the series. And there was Game 7 at the Garden last year.

Maybe the Lightning has the Penguins right where it wants them.

It's still not where you want to be.

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