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Bad start to Game 1 could be a bad omen for the Lightning

John Romano | Boston looked like a superior team in the first period. Tampa Bay looked like a desperate team the rest of the night.
Boston Bruins left wing Brad Marchand (63) is congratulated by teammates David Pastrnak (88) and Patrice Bergeron (37) after scoring during the third period.
Boston Bruins left wing Brad Marchand (63) is congratulated by teammates David Pastrnak (88) and Patrice Bergeron (37) after scoring during the third period. [ FRANK GUNN | The Canadian Press via AP ]
Published Aug. 24, 2020

So the Lightning lost the first game of their series against Boston.

I wish I could say that was the bad news.

What’s worse is that Sunday night’s 3-2 loss isn’t easily written off.

You could say the Lightning showed spunk, and you could say the final score was tight. You could argue the Lightning had the edge for the final 35 minutes and you could rave about Victor Hedman’s abilities.

The problem is you cannot point to one big moment or one clear deficiency to explain this loss. And so you are left wondering whether this is the first scene of a series-long struggle against what might be a better team.

I know, I know, it’s only 60 minutes of hockey. It’s dangerous to read too much into the first game in a best-of-7 series. And the Lightning did win the regular-season series against Boston, so that’s worth considering too.

But, other than the play of goaltender Andrei Vasilevskiy, was there any facet of the game where you felt the Lightning outplayed the Bruins?

Boston’s top line was better than Tampa Bay’s — by a lot. Boston’s defensemen didn’t make any mistakes — Tampa Bay’s did. And Boston’s special teams put on a virtual clinic against the Lightning’s penalty kill and power play.

“If we’re not going to manage the puck the way we did for most of the Columbus series,” Lightning coach Jon Cooper said, “it will be tough for us.”

Honestly, it looked like the Bruins were cohesive and smoother, basically in command. The Lightning didn’t look like anything but desperate once they fell behind 2-0 early in the second period.

They ended up generating a lot of shots and a few decent scoring chances in the second period, but you never got the sense that Tampa Bay was seizing control. It was more like the Lightning were throwing everything but the kitchen sink at Boston.

Passes were a little off. Shots were not crisp. Feet seemed to move too slowly.

“At the beginning, I don’t think we had our feet into it. I don’t think we weren’t battling or competing hard enough,” said forward Tyler Johnson. “I thought that got better as the game went on.”

That much is true. But it’s also true that the first period wasn’t the entire problem. The Bruins scored a goal in each period of the game, even though the Lightning felt like they were the ones in control in the second and third periods.

“We believe in the group that we have in that room,” Hedman said. “That was one period. I wouldn’t say it lost us the game, but we didn’t start on the right foot. Good teams will take advantage of that. That’s on us in that room to be better come next game.

“We did a lot of good things in the second and third, but we have to do that for a full 60 minutes.”

Yeah, it’s not a good sign when you reach the end of the first period and feel fortunate to be losing 1-0.

Boston wasn’t just dominant, it was scary. The Bruins were coming up with chance after chance, and it took a half-dozen quality saves by Vasilevskiy to save Tampa Bay’s collective rear end.

This is the Vasilevskiy the Lightning is going to need for the rest of the series. You can point to his stats, but it’s more about rising to the moment.

When your forwards are having trouble generating any kind of attack, your goaltender needs to keep the game from getting out of hand. That’s what Vasilevskiy did in the first period. For that matter, for a good chunk of the second period.

“By no means did we lose that game in the first period, but we didn’t help ourselves,” Cooper said. “But when you give a team a lead and shrink the game to 40 minutes, it’s going to be tough on you.”

So was it an off night? I suppose that’s the hope.

Because, otherwise, this is looking like an unhappy ending.

John Romano can be reached at jromano@tamapbay.com. Follow @romano_tbtimes.