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Lightning stays on even keel after Game 1 loss (w/video)

Tampa Bay Lightning team captain Steven Stamkos (91) watches from bench during the final minutes after the New York Rangers went up 2 to 1 during third period action for game one of the Eastern Conference Finals at Madison Square Garden in New York Saturday afternoon (5/16/15).
Tampa Bay Lightning team captain Steven Stamkos (91) watches from bench during the final minutes after the New York Rangers went up 2 to 1 during third period action for game one of the Eastern Conference Finals at Madison Square Garden in New York Saturday afternoon (5/16/15).
Published May 18, 2015

NEW YORK

No riot acts were read. No sticks were smashed into little bits. No trash cans were turned over.

Here, inside the Lightning dressing room after Tampa Bay's frustrating 2-1 loss Saturday to the Rangers in the opening game of the Eastern Conference final, there was no sense of alarm. There was no indication that a line of Fear, Worry and Concern was hanging gear inside the lockers.

Disappointed? The Lightning, naturally, was bummed out about losing on a goofy goal with just more than two minutes left in regulation. But the Lightning, appropriately, was not all that discouraged.

Defenseman Anton Stralman spoke in even tones. Captain Steven Stamkos talked about a plan of attack, not panic attacks. Goalie Ben Bishop, while smiling, made a crack about the Rangers missing an empty net on purpose to win another playoff game by one goal.

The Lightning didn't lose the series Saturday, and it didn't act like it had.

It was one game. Just one loss. Not that you want to scoff at any loss in a best-of-seven series, but you get the feeling that this is going to take a while. This looks like it's going to be a long and entertaining series between two very fast, very skilled, very good hockey teams.

Settle in. We're just getting started.

"That game is probably what this series is going to be like," Lightning coach Jon Cooper said. "Now that the first one is through, of course we'd like to have had it, but now we've got this one under our belt, and we'll see what we can do in Game 2."

Maybe a year ago, losing like the Lightning did Saturday would have thrown the team into a tailspin. Maybe even at the start of these playoffs, dropping a game as it did on Saturday would give the Lightning high anxiety and a serious case of the yips.

This, however, is a different Lightning team. You could sense it in the locker room late Saturday afternoon. Experience has led to confidence. Maturity has led to calmness. One loss isn't going to destroy this team.

After the trials and tribulations, highs and lows, lucky bounces and bad breaks of the first two rounds, the Lightning realizes that a series cannot be won or lost in one game. Unless, that is, you carry the result and the emotion of that result into the next game.

The key to winning in the playoffs is to forget about the last game as soon as it ends.

"We've done that all playoffs, I think," Stamkos said. "We've been in situations where we've been down and situations where we've been up and we've found a way. We'll find another way."

Part of the reason the Lightning didn't get too bent out of shape about the loss is that it played pretty well, especially after the first period.

"We got better as the game moved along," Stralman said. "I think we put ourselves in a little bit of trouble in the first period. … Other than that, I feel like we found our game in the second and third periods."

This game could have gone either way. It was 0-0 despite a rough first period for Tampa Bay. It was 1-1 late in regulation. While you would have to give the edge to the Rangers for most of Game 1, the fact is the Lightning easily could have won. Bishop had a good game. The power play looked decent.

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Having said that, the Lightning is going to have to ratchet its game up another level. The Rangers are better than the Red Wings and Canadiens, the two teams the Lightning disposed of to get to this series, and New York probably will play better in Game 2.

The Rangers were coming off an emotional Game 7 overtime victory in the last round against the Capitals and probably were still a little hung over from that game.

In addition, the Lightning also learned Saturday that the Rangers sure can skate and skate fast. The Lightning usually makes opponents look like they're wearing concrete boots. At various times Saturday, the Lightning looked to be moving at a lower gear. And, oh yeah, the Rangers have goalie Henrik Lundqvist.

"We can't expect to put a couple past a goalie of that caliber," Stamkos said, "with the minimal chances we had."

That's the most damning thing anyone said after the game. Even in saying that, however, Stamkos didn't speak angrily. It was a more matter-of-fact, more measured. That's a good sign, a reminder that the Lightning has grown up and is ready for this stage.

"We lost on a (strange) goal," defenseman Victor Hedman said. "That's hockey. Hockey is hockey and that's what makes it such a fun sport. Losing puts some pressure on us for the next game, but it's something we can handle."

All this is not to say the Lightning will win Game 2 or win this series. But it will play well. It will make this a competitive series. It might even win it.

That's the lesson you take from Saturday. Not only because of the way the Lightning conducted itself on the ice, but how it handled itself after the game off the ice.

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