The Lightning have a whole lot of skill on their roster. They can seize control of a game and hold on to it, like in the exhibition win over Florida. But they’ve also gotten in their own way at times.
Failing to play “the right way,” as coach Jon Cooper is fond of saying, throughout a game caused them problems and cost them games in the regular season. Some ebbs and flow in a game are normal, but managing momentum is crucial in the playoffs.
Monday’s overtime win over Washington served that reminder.
“In any game, the momentum shifts from minute to minute, shift to shift,” Lightning forward Mitchell Stephens said. “In those situations, it’s important that we need to buckle down, remain calm and survive those momentum shifts and push the pace back at them.”
The Lightning took a 1-0 lead at 12:53 and then added another goal eight minutes into the second period. For a span of about 20 minutes, starting with that first goal, the Lightning held a small edge in momentum.
The game seemed to flow slightly in their direction. The Lightning weren’t dominating but had some control.
There wasn’t a moment when it started to change, but bit by bit the Capitals began taking control. They pressured goalie Andrei Vasilevskiy more than they allowed the Lightning into the offensive zone.
The Capitals’ first goal was something of a fluke — a simple-looking shot bounced off defenseman Zach Bogosian and through Vasilevskiy’s legs for former Lightning forward Richard Panik to finish — but they seized upon it.
Washington came on strong after that lucky bounce and scored again 2:08 later, another innocent-looking shot that bounced oddly. It was a momentum doubleheader: two goals scored in quick succession and late in the period, each of which can swing a game on its own.
“I feel like the fans play a big role in momentum swings,” Lightning wing Barclay Goodrow said. “If you’re going to a building where the team relies on their fans a lot, it can be tough to get out of those holes. Obviously this time around, it’s going to be different.
Defenseman Victor Hedman said without fans behind them, it was up to the Lightning’s leaders on the ice and in the locker room to motivate them and create momentum.
On Monday, that meant Vasilevskiy. The team did not play a great third period, but they played well enough and Vasilevskiy made some big saves. The Lightning fed off their goalie’s play as he kept the Capitals off the board.
A fight is the most obvious bid for “a spark” to swing momentum. The Capitals appeared to respond well to T.J. Oshie’s duel with Yanni Gourde, three minutes before Panik’s goal.
It also might come from a big hit. Tom Wilson started the second period looking to connect with someone to boost his team.
A good power play, even without scoring, or a penalty kill can do the same. The Lightning dominated Wednesday’s exhibition win over Florida throughout, but they got a visible energy boost from an extended five-on-three kill.
Last year, Columbus seized momentum by scoring off a turnover in the second period of Game 1. They did not let up again for four games.
“That’s what playoffs is about,” Lightning forward Yanni Gourde said. “If there’s a momentum change in the game, we’re going to work as hard as we can to get it back. There were a few instances in the game when the momentum was shifting back and forth, and for the most part we worked pretty hard to get it back.”