Friday, July 20, 2018
Tampa Bay Lightning

Jones: Lightning needs to step up its game

TAMPA — The Lightning is not going to win the Eastern Conference final series against the Penguins.

Not if it plays like it did in Game 2's overtime loss. Not even if it plays like it did in Game 1's victory.

It's surprising the Lightning is tied 1-1 in the best-of-seven series. It's incredible to think it came within a crossbar of being up 2-0.

It might actually deserve to be down 2-0.

If the first two games have shown us anything, it's that Tampa Bay is in trouble unless it can match the gear Pittsburgh has found.

The Penguins have taken their game up a notch. Now it's Tampa Bay's turn.

"We've got to play better to win this series, there's no doubt,'' Lightning coach Jon Cooper said. "We haven't put our best foot forward, I think.''

Ya think?

The Lightning was outshot, 35-20, in Game 1. It was outshot, 41-21, in Game 2. Not that shots on goal are the be-all, end-all of a hockey game, but in these cases, the disparity is an accurate account of how the first two games played out.

Do the math: the Penguins had as many shots in Game 2 as the Lightning has had in the series.

"Obviously, you want to have more shots,'' Lightning defenseman Victor Hedman said. "For us, it's all about puck possession. If you don't have the puck, it's tough to shoot.''

And if you don't have the puck, that means the other team does.

If you flipped on either of the first two games at any point, there's a good chance you would have seen a Penguins player with that little black disc.

"Pittsburgh is a very talented team,'' Lightning center Tyler Johnson said. "So when they have the puck, it's obviously very difficult.''

Through two games, the Penguins were the more dominant team.

They had more chances. They had better chances. They spent the bulk of both games in Tampa Bay's end.

"It's a concern, there's no question,'' Cooper said. "I think we've put ourselves in positions to have the puck more, but we're not being very smart about how we're playing. We're not playing as a group of five on the ice. We're kind of in all different segments, playing in different zones, changing when we shouldn't, and when you're not in unison, you're not going to have the puck a whole lot of time.

"So definitely, (that's) something we have to improve on.''

How, exactly?

It's one thing to say you want to play better or that you need to play with the puck more. It's another when there's another team out there actually doing it.

"I think it's just playing with the puck, being able to support each other, being able to help each other, and making the simple plays,'' Johnson said. "You can't fuel their transition game because it is one of the best in the league. They're very talented at it. You know, in a way, it's a lot like us. We feed off turnovers as well. So it's kind of like playing with each other.''

What has happened in the first two games is as much about the Penguins as it is about the Lightning.

"By no means am I sitting here saying, oh, gosh, we're a way better team,'' Cooper said. "Not at all. They have a lot to do with it as well. You don't get to the conference final by fluke. They've got a really good team, and there's a reason they, I guess, have the best record since February … and they're playing well.''

Tampa Bay won Game 1 by, seemingly, cashing in on every really good chance it had. And they have had that great goaltending from Ben Bishop, then Andrei Vasilevskiy.

Meantime, Vasilevskiy was the chief reason why the Lightning even got Game 2 to overtime.

"He really had to stand on his head at the beginning to really keep us in it, and we were able to crawl our way back,'' Johnson said. "But we need to play a full 60-minute game, and we've got to do that in Game 3.''

Okay, so that's all the bad stuff.

Now for some glass-half-full talk.

"We're not here 0-2,'' Cooper said. "It's 1-1. That's something we're definitely going to hang on to here.''

Besides, at this point in the season, Cooper is not about to beat up his players.

"I tip our hat to our guys,'' Cooper said. "They played their hearts out. We're 9-3 in the playoffs. That's as good a run as we've had in the regular season. So it's pretty tough to be hard on our guys. But in saying that, we have to have a better response.

That response needs to come right away.

Like Game 3.

Comments
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