Monday, December 11, 2017
Tampa Bay Lightning

Loss leaves Lightning full of questions

TAMPA

Now what?

What does the Lightning do now?

Aside from signing Gretzky, Lemieux and Orr and putting them in a time machine, that is.

Ankle deep in water to start Friday, the Lightning is now waist deep in rising tides. The 2014 playoff run is about go under, over before it really even got started.

The Lightning is now down 2-0 and heading off to a hostile building in Montreal for Games 3 and 4.

Two games. Two very different losses but both equally discouraging.

Now what?

There is no simple answer, no easy fix. That's the frustrating part for the Lightning.

As baffling as it is to understand how it lost the first two games of this series, it's even more puzzling trying to figure out how the Lightning might win even one game, let alone four of the next five.

Sure, you can whip out the cliches.

Work harder. Score more. Play better defense. Put something special in the special teams.

But when you break it all down, pour through the video and scramble the X's and O's looking for the clues that might lead to a victory, all you get are more questions.

"This is not what we expected," defenseman Victor Hedman said.

So far the Canadiens are just … better.

They have been faster, grittier, more determined.

They have been hungrier, smarter, more poised.

One team is playing hockey while the other is playing playoff hockey.

One team is making mistakes while the other is taking advantage of those mistakes.

One team is finding ways to win. And the other team? Well, the other team is the Lightning.

"We've just got to give a better effort, keep it simple and play better," forward Teddy Purcell said.

This is in no way to suggest the Lightning isn't trying or doesn't care. It is, and it does. But simply wanting to succeed hasn't been, and won't be, enough.

Game 1 was a bad loss. Despite taking the Canadiens to overtime before losing, the Lightning had no business being close in Game 1. It played poorly and was thoroughly dominated no matter what the scoreboard read.

Oddly enough, Game 2 was much better. The score suggests otherwise, but the Lightning's play seemed more suited to playoff hockey.

"We played much better," coach Jon Cooper said, "than the score indicated."

And it still wasn't anywhere close to being good enough.

"Obviously, it's not where we want to be," forward Valtteri Filppula said. "Hopefully we can turn this thing around."

Yeah, but how?

The defense was again leaky and sloppy, with veterans such as Sami Salo and Eric Brewer once again being burned for a key goal. If there's one area where the Lightning must get better, it's on the back end.

The offense didn't generate as many good chances as it did in Game 1, but then again, Canadiens goalie Carey Price was much better than in Game 1. Price finding his game after a shaky opener is enough to give the Lightning cold sweats.

As far as Lightning goalie Anders Lindback, he gave up three of the four goals in Game 2. Two weren't his fault. One was a softie. But just like in Game 1, he wasn't the reason the Lightning lost.

In the end, when you're doing the autopsy on the first two games and trying to determine the losses' cause, all you come up with is a little of this and a little of that. And that leads to what Hedman called a "little hole."

Little? More like the Grand Canyon.

After the game, the Lightning held a team meeting. Perhaps it would have been better served having that meeting before the game.

"The message is to believe in ourselves and stick together," captain Steven Stamkos said.

The next team meeting might just be to figure out where everyone is going for summer vacation.

"I'm pretty confident in this group right now," Cooper said. "Every time it looked like we were going on a slide, these guys found a way to rebound."

But this feels different. This feels more dire than anything the Lightning has been through before.

Is this series over? It sure feels like it. You get the feeling this thing will not return to Tampa Bay for a Game 5.

Then again, maybe heading to Montreal is the best thing right now for the Lightning. No one expects the Lightning to win now. Perhaps there will be less pressure. Maybe playing in front of a riled-up home crowd will give the Canadiens some jitters they have yet to show in this series.

As far as on the ice, the Lightning needs to get way better defensively. It needs the power play to spark the offense. And it never hurts to have a goalie stand on his head.

"We just got to stick together in here and have a short memory," Purcell said. "It's a long series."

Unfortunately for the Lightning, it's getting shorter by the game.

     
   
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