TAMPA — Forty minutes into Game 2, boos rained down on the Lightning, and continued through the final period.
This could be the last time Bolts Nation sees this team and there wasn’t much well-wishing in the send off.
The Lightning team fans have loved all year was missing in Game 2. Where was the team that had scored more goals than any other in the last 20 years? And where were the stars that make fans stand up and hold their breath, waiting to be dazzled.
No one dazzled on Friday. Those stars have been missing for the last four playoff games.
“This is a five-alarm fire,” Jon Cooper said after Friday’s 5-1 loss gave Columbus a 2-0 lead in the series. "It's adversity. Sometimes that's good. Sometimes you have to go through stuff like this to see how we respond."
He added what he does know about his team is it finds finds a way.
The Lightning needs to do that now.
Mikhail Sergachev scored Tampa Bay’s only goal of the game and led the team in shots. Depth scoring has carried this team all season – and it’s true that depth is key in the playoffs – but the stars need to show up.
The point of depth scoring is to be the supporting cast, not to carry the team.
Nikita Kucherov, Brayden Point and Steven Stamkos are the undeniable stars of an incredibly skilled team. They haven’t been able to do anything.
None of the trio has so much as a point in the last four playoff games, going back to last season, that number grows to five for both Stamkos and Point.
“It’s not us trying to keep one particular guy, we’re just trying to play as best as we can as a team and if it stops some people, great,” John Tortorella said. “But we’re not focused on anyone in particular.”
That’s all well and good, but there’s no denying that it helps Columbus to hold off those three, who each had more points than his leading scorer in the regular season.
Stamkos and Kucherov got shots off (eventually) on Friday. It took more than 15 minutes for any forward to put a shot on net, but when someone did it was Kucherov. He ended up with three shots on net and Stamkos with four. Point didn’t even have a shot on net.
Shot don’t mean much at this point, though. The Lightning is past the point of prioritizing shot chances. It needs goals.
Jon Cooper isn’t willing to lay it all at the feet of those three players. He pointed out that none of the three had a point in all 82 games of the regular season.
True enough, but rarely did all three go without a point in the same game. It happened nine times in the regular season. Only one of those nine games was a Lightning win, and even that took a shootout in the season opener.
More concerningly, the Lightning is 0-for-4 in playoff games in which neither Kucherov, Point nor Stamkos makes the scoresheet. Tampa Bay has certainly lost games in which they did score, but it hasn’t won without them scoring.
“It was almost the harder they tried, the harder it got,” Cooper said about his team overall.
Players fell back into old habits of looking for the perfect shots instead of taking one the opportunity in front of them on Friday.
Give Columbus credit, as well. On a few rushes, Brayden Point started up the ice, carrying the puck with speed, only to be forced to the outside. At that point, throwing the puck on the net from the wall without much of a net front presence was his only shot opportunity.
Maybe he would have gotten lucky, like Cam Atkinson did with the Blue Jackets’ first goal of the game, a tip which rattled around in Andrei Vasilevskiy’s equipment before squeaking through into the net. Instead, Point carried the puck around the net and passed it off, once to Stamkos who took a hard shot. But Sergei Bobrovsky made the save.
Point’s refrain after the game was about needing to move on, about Columbus playing good defense and the need to find a way to counter-act that. Both he and Stamkos said there’s nothing they can do about the game that was just played. They need to move on to Game 3.
The Lightning’s back is against the wall. Only once in franchise history has Tampa Bay come back from a 2-0 deficit to win a playoff series.
“We have to take a page out of their book and go on the road and win a hockey game,” Stamkos said.
So who will step up if the Lightning is going to have a chance to do that?