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Lightning-Capitals: It’s not over, but it sure feels like it

From left, Lightning center Cedric Paquette can't bear to look as left wing Chris Kunitz and right wing Ryan Callahan check out the scoreboard after falling behind 5-2 against the Capitals during the third period in Game 2 of the Eastern Conference final on Sunday, May 13, 2018 at Amalie Arena. [DIRK SHADD  |  Times]
From left, Lightning center Cedric Paquette can't bear to look as left wing Chris Kunitz and right wing Ryan Callahan check out the scoreboard after falling behind 5-2 against the Capitals during the third period in Game 2 of the Eastern Conference final on Sunday, May 13, 2018 at Amalie Arena. [DIRK SHADD | Times]
Published May 14, 2018|Updated May 14, 2018

TAMPA — No, it's not over. It just feels that way.

Looks like it, too.

The Lightning is in big-time trouble. Not dead, but one skate in the grave and the other on a banana peel.

Someone check the expiration on this feel-good season. It's starting to rot. Game 2 of the Eastern Conference final Sunday night certainly had a sour smell to it as the Lightning lost to the Capitals 6-2.

Not even close. The game and, so far, the series.

Two home games. Two losses. Too much Caps.

And there is the problem. Too much Caps. All Caps. That's what this series has become. All Caps.

Sure, we can pick apart the Lightning's game, and there's plenty to pick apart.

Goalie Andrei Vasilevskiy has a couple of bricks missing in his wall, so many that you wonder if he should sit for the next game. The penalty kill is on permanent vacation. It's making critical mistakes at crucial times.

Columnist Tom Jones and staff writer Roger Mooney break down the Lightning’s 6-2 loss in Game 2 and Tampa Bay’s predicament heading to Washington.

Posted by Tampa Bay Times - Sports on Sunday, May 13, 2018

Not exactly the blueprint for building a Stanley Cup run.

"Really disappointing,'' Lightning captain Steven Stamkos said. "It's too fresh to take anything from this game.''

There's nothing to take away except the cold reality that the Lightning is close to checking out of these playoffs. And why?

It is playing a team that, quite frankly, is just better than Tampa Bay so far.
The Caps look like a team on a mission. They look faster than Tampa Bay. Bigger, too. And better. More than anything, they look better.

This isn't meant to let the Lightning off the hook.

Can it elevate its game? Can it play with more passion? More smarts? I would like to think so.

"We've got to play with some urgency, and our desperation level has got to go up,'' defenseman Ryan McDonagh said. "We've got to be way better."

But that might not be the answer. Unfortunately, for Tampa Bay, there might not be an answer. Because the problem isn't that Tampa Bay is playing lousy, but that Washington is playing really well.

And that's the part that is disturbing if you wear a Lightning bolt on your jersey. The Lightning actually played better in Game 2 than it did in Game 1. It played with more energy. The bounces that didn't go Tampa Bay's way in Game 1 actually went its way in Game 2.

And it didn't make a bit of difference. In fact, the result was worse. It got so bad that fans started filing out of Amalie Arena midway through the third period. Hope they got a good last look because it just might be the last time they see their team in person until next season.

At this point, the Lightning looks deflated, beaten. It looks like a shell of a team that had the best record in the Eastern Conference and raced through the first two rounds of the playoffs in 10 games. That's what the Capitals have done to it.

"For a team that's used to making big plays, we sure haven't made them in these two games,'' coach Jon Cooper said. "That's the difference. They've made plays, and we haven't. And it has cost us.''

So now what?

"We've got to figure out a way to go into their rink and win a hockey game,'' Stamkos said.

That's a start: win one game. But how?

Cooper already announced after Game 2 that he has no intention of yanking Vasilevskiy, who has given up 10 goals in five periods. And that's the right call. While Vasilevskiy has been a tad leaky in the series, the Lightning is not in a 2-0 hole because of him. At the end of the day, he still gives Tampa Bay its best chance to win.

"We've played tentative and a little bit slow,'' Cooper said. "By no means am I saying it's all us. They obviously got a really good team, and they are playing like it. They're playing with some confidence right now. And it's surprising that we're not.''

Not really, not if you watched how the Caps have dominated this series. No wonder the Lightning is suffering from a crisis of confidence at the moment.

Right now, there are two teams in this series. A team that is really good. And the Lightning.

More from Tom Jones

Why the Game 1 loss to Washington was worse than Game 1 to Boston

Enough with the bellyaching about Lightning's dress code

The key to the Lightning's success

Contact Tom Jones at tjones@tampabay.com. Follow @tomwjones

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