1. Lightning

Lightning's loss is reality check for fans

Tampa Bay Lightning defenseman Anton Stralman (6), left, collides with Detroit Red Wings goalie Petr Mrazek (34) during the first period of game one of the opening round of the Stanley Cup playoffs at the Amalie Arena in Tampa Thursday evening. (04/16/15). Opening face off is at 7:30pm.
Tampa Bay Lightning defenseman Anton Stralman (6), left, collides with Detroit Red Wings goalie Petr Mrazek (34) during the first period of game one of the opening round of the Stanley Cup playoffs at the Amalie Arena in Tampa Thursday evening. (04/16/15). Opening face off is at 7:30pm.
Published Apr. 17, 2015


You didn't think this was going to be easy, did you?

You didn't think the Lightning would simply show up, leisurely skate around for a couple of hours and skate off with a victory in Thursday night's Game 1 of the playoffs against the Red Wings, did you?

Actually, many of you probably did. And you know what? You could hardly be blamed for getting a little giddy about your team and a little ahead of yourselves.

That's probably why you feel so rotten — and overly worried — after Tampa Bay's sobering 3-2 loss. But don't jump off the bandwagon just yet. The Lightning showed it was ready for the playoffs with an outstanding effort in which it did everything it wanted to do. Well, except for that detail about actually winning.

Look, it's easy to be discouraged this morning. The Lightning had a fantastic regular season, the best in franchise history. Other than missing defenseman Jason Garrison, the Lightning is healthy again. It was at home, and believe it or not, it felt like a home game with not nearly as many bright red Red Wings jerseys as we've seen here in the past.

Meantime, even though the Red Wings are loaded with playoff experience, they seemed vulnerable, old and shaky. They were starting some kid goalie with no playoff experience in a move that, quite frankly, smacked of desperation.

No wonder the Lightning felt like a heavy favorite not only for Game 1, but for this best-of-seven series.

So, it's true that the Lightning hasn't started these 2015 playoffs the way it expected, but it's no time to panic. This series has just begun, even though Thursday was a cold reminder that nothing ever comes easy in the Stanley Cup playoffs. And if the Lightning plays the rest of this series like it did Thursday night, it will win this series. And it will still win it easily.

Game 1 proved two things. One, the better team doesn't always win. And, two, there is nothing easy this time of year. Not goals, not shifts, not saves, not pieces of real estate on the ice.

Most of all, not victories.

"Doesn't really matter how you do it," Lightning forward Brian Boyle said. "You just want to win."

The truth is you really can't find much fault with the way Tampa Bay played.

"We brought the effort," Lightning defenseman Victor Hedman said. "The compete was there. Execution was there."

Asked what the Lightning would change for Game 2 and captain Steven Stamkos had one word: nothing.

The Lightning was the better team, the hungrier team, the team with more talent, more chances and more everything. It poured 46 shots on goal. In fact, Stamkos (eight shots) and defenseman Braydon Coburn (seven) had more shots than the entire Red Wings team (14)

The old saying in hockey goes that the road team tries to steal one of the first two games of a series and the Red Wings truly stole Game 1. One of their proven playoff stars, Pavel Datsyuk, scored a pair of goals and that kid goalie — Petr Mrazek — might have looked wobbly at times but was still good enough to turn away 44 shots.

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"If we play like that," Lightning goalie Ben Bishop said, "we will win more games than we lose."

The key is to win four before losing three more and that, clearly, is not going to be as easy as the Lightning might have thought 24 hours ago.

There's a reason why the Red Wings are one of the most respected franchises in all of sports. There's a reason why their coach, Mike Babcock, is considered one of the best in all of sports. And there's a reason why the Red Wings have always been a tough out in the postseason.

So now what? Concern? Of course. Game 2 is suddenly more critical than anyone thought it might be before the playoffs began.

Criticized last postseason, and rightfully so, for not finding that extra gear needed for the playoffs, the Lightning played all Thursday night in a higher gear. It played with passion and urgency and heart and smarts and all the necessary qualities needed for playoff success.

Bishop, making his first NHL playoff start, wasn't really tested, but he was decent even if the Red Wings' third goal was not one of his better moments. The defense was sturdy and offensive pressure was steady. The power play could be better, but overall, it was simply just one of those nights when the team that deserved to win didn't.

If the Lightning plays the rest of the series like it did Game 1, it still has an excellent chance at winning this thing. That's the good news. On the other side, however, is the Red Wings are likely to play better than they did in Game 1. The other downer is the Lightning will have to overcome the disappointment of losing a game it should have won.

"It's tough, but that's the playoffs," Lightning forward Ryan Callahan said. "That's the exciting part of it."

Or the nerve-racking part.

Either way, what this all means now is that we have a series. It certainly is a long way from being over.

And it isn't going to be easy.