Wednesday, January 17, 2018
Tampa Bay Lightning

Jones: Game 2 almost must-win for Lightning (w/video)

BRANDON

Nothing produces more overreaction than the first game of a best-of-seven Stanley Cup playoff series.

Win Game 1 and everybody thinks you're going on to not only win the series but win the Stanley Cup. Start mapping out the parade route.

Lose Game 1 and everyone is sure you're going to get swept and just might be the worst playoff team ever. Fire the coach and trade all the players.

One game. That's all it takes to flip the cheers to jeers and turn heroes into goats.

So when the Lightning lost Wednesday's Game 1 of its second-round series against the Islanders, overreaction immediately set in.

Oh, the Islanders are too big, too fast, too good. The Lightning can't possibly keep up because of all its injuries. Goalie Ben Bishop has lost it. The Lightning is done.

It's silly. It's just one game. All the ills the Lightning has can be cured today with a victory in Game 2.

That, however, leads us to the other thing that happens when a team loses the opening game of a best-of-seven Stanley Cup playoff series: It turns Game 2 into a must-win game.

And that is not so silly.

Is today's Game 2 a must-win for Tampa Bay? Technically, no, it's not a must-win. But it's pretty darn close.

How about saying it this way: The Lightning better not lose Game 2.

"We've got to get a win," said center Brian Boyle, who added: "Quick."

A loss today wouldn't necessarily mean the end, but falling behind 2-0 at home and heading to Brooklyn for the next two games is a recipe for the Lightning getting knocked out of the playoffs and getting knocked out in a hurry.

A loss would require winning four out of the next five games. That's hard to do against any team. It would be especially difficult for a team as good as and playing as well as the Islanders.

"Obviously, Game 2 is important right now," forward Cedric Paquette said. "Really important. We've shown before that we can come back from losing the first game. It's just one game."

But Game 1's 5-3 loss had an ugly feel for the Lightning despite its late comeback to within 4-3 that made for a thrilling final few moments. Frankly, the Lightning was lucky to even be close.

What went wrong? There are plenty of theories.

Some blamed the five-day layoff between the end of the first-round Detroit series and the beginning of the Islanders series. If that was the case, then the Lightning should be much better this afternoon.

Some, including Lightning coach Jon Cooper and several players, thought the Lightning got a little too fat, thinking it was going to be another easy night after jumping out to a 1-0 lead early in the first period. That theory is hard to swallow. This Lightning team has way too much playoff experience to ease off the gas pedal with a one-goal lead and 56 minutes left in the game.

Nevertheless, if you buy that theory and the Islanders now have Tampa Bay's attention, you should see a better Lightning team today.

Goalie Ben Bishop was lousy in Game 1, and he was yanked midway through after allowing four goals, including a pair of softies. You wouldn't expect one of the best goalies in the game to have back-to-back dog games, and Bishop has a solid history of bouncing back after subpar performances.

So if it was rust or relaxing or a rare off night from its goalie, the Lightning should be in much better shape for Game 2. That's all good news.

"We have to play 60 minutes, because 30 minutes isn't good enough in the playoffs," Paquette said. "We can't go into the third period like Game 1 losing 4-1. Our intensity wasn't good enough."

There is one other possibility that is a little more ominous for Tampa Bay: that the Islanders really are too big, too fast and too good for the Lightning. Maybe they are the better team.

The biggest concern Tampa Bay has right now is defense. That means team defense as a whole, and the defensemen specifically. The entire defensive corps had a rough night in Game 1, including the normally dependable Victor Hedman. What's disturbing for Tampa Bay is that Game 1 was the second consecutive game in which the defense was leaky. Only Bishop's incredible goaltending in Game 5 of the Detroit series bailed out Tampa Bay in a 1-0 win.

The loss of injured defenseman Anton Stralman has been especially noticeable the past two games, and there's no word on when — or even if — he will return this postseason.

So what's the big adjustment the Lightning needs for Game 2?

"The big adjustment is the panic factor about having to win Game 2," coach Jon Cooper said. "Game 2 probably has your attention a heck of a lot more than you didn't get in Game 1, especially at home."

If you're looking for a positive vibe, the Lightning is 5-0 in Game 2s over the past two postseasons. It has gone on to win four of those five series. In addition, three of those Game 2 victories came after losing Game 1, and it won two of those series.

What happens when the Lightning loses the first two games of a series? You don't want to know.

And the Lightning doesn't want to find out what will happen if it loses today.

   
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