Saturday, February 24, 2018
Tampa Bay Lightning

Someone needs to step up offensively for Lightning (w/video)

DETROIT — Just moments after their disheartening Game 3 playoff loss to the Red Wings on Sunday night, Lightning players sat at their lockers inside Joe Louis Arena.

Quiet. Silent.

Kind of like they were on the ice for the previous 21/2 hours.

No noise. No pressure. No threat.

No chance.

This first-round playoff series has definitely shifted. The Lightning still leads the series, 2-1, so why does it seem that it's in trouble?

Because of Sunday. Because of the offense.

Because of the silence.

It felt as if Tampa Bay could have played all night and never scored a goal.

And this was the fear, wasn't it?

When the Lightning lost Steven Stamkos just before the end of the regular season with blood clots, the feeling was that it just wouldn't be able to pump in enough goals to make a deep playoff run. That a Lightning team minus its team-leading 36-goal scorer simply wouldn't score enough to navigate a long and grueling postseason.

Tampa Bay had a chance to put its skates on Detroit's throat Sunday, and it could not. Why? Because it couldn't achieve the No. 1 objective in the game: score more goals than the other guy.

It couldn't score at all.

"We just couldn't get anything going," said goalie Ben Bishop, who had a great view of nothing.

For the first two games of the series, the Lightning did find just enough offense. But that offense essentially came from one line. Alex Killorn, Tyler Johnson and Nikita Kucherov combined for seven of the team's eight goals as Tampa Bay jumped out to a 2-0 series lead.

Clearly the Red Wings dialed up a plan for Game 3, and that plan was to stop the Killorn-Johnson-Kucherov line. Mission accomplished.

But here's the thing: Don't pin this loss on the top line. Blame it on everyone else. Someone — anyone — has to start scoring. You can't rely on one line if you plan on winning a playoff series, let alone a Stanley Cup.

"You can't count on three guys to score every night and that's how it's going to go," Lightning coach Jon Cooper said. "That's not how it works."

This isn't just about one game. This is about what we've seen in this series. Imagine where Tampa Bay would be without Killorn, Johnson and Kucherov. Imagine, if you dare, what will happen if Killorn, Johnson and Kucherov are shut down for the rest of the series.

When Stamkos went down, we heard the oldest cliche in sports when a significant player gets hurt: Someone has to step up.

Well. Someone has to step up.

Ryan Callahan? He scored 24 goals a year ago. Anyone seen him on a score sheet lately? Jonathan Drouin? He's a third overall pick. He has skills. Now it's time to produce.

How about Valtteri Filppula? He's a supposed two-way player. Well, he's not a two-way player. He's a one-way player, and that one thing has not been offense.

Vlad Namestnikov scored 14 goals in the regular season. The Lightning could use a tally or two from him now. Brian Boyle? Cedric Paquette? Ondrej Palat?

Someone? Anyone?

All of those players certainly bring other attributes to the ice, whether it's Callahan's dogged checking or Filppula's defense or Boyle's penalty killing or Paquette's grit, but sometimes that's not enough. Sometimes, such as when you're missing a Stamkos, players like that have to provide some offense.

Sure, they do all the little things. Well, time to do some of the big things, like scoring a danged goal every now and then.

"Everybody has to contribute in the playoffs," Callahan said. "It's important, obviously, to get scoring from more than one line."

And we haven't even brought up the abysmal power play, which has been on the fritz all season. It had chances to get Tampa Bay back into the game during the third period Sunday and did nothing. No wonder the Red Wings are taking liberties with Tampa Bay. It has no fear of the Lightning's power play.

The Red Wings were ripe for the taking in Game 3. All the Lightning had to do was come out and score a couple of goals and turn it over to Bishop. The Red Wings would have put on their blinkers, looking for the next exit ramp from this postseason.

But Tampa Bay couldn't do that. Not only couldn't it score, it couldn't even muster enough pressure to gain some momentum. Now it has the Red Wings believing they can win this series.

"We couldn't find enough offense," defenseman Jason Garrison said.

The Red Wings were so desperate coming in that they switched goalies. They turned to Petr Mrazek, who was a sieve down the stretch. Yet, if Mrazek was fragile, the Lightning never found out. He was hardly tested.

"I know they switched goaltenders," Cooper said, "but I don't even know that they needed a goaltender tonight."

Tampa Bay had only 16 shots for the game and just seven in the final two periods. Seven! Can you remember any of them?.

Once Detroit figured out a way to hold down the big line of Killorn, Johnson and Kucherov, the Lightning was cooked.

If someone else doesn't step up, the Lightning will be done.

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