Disappointing and dreadful aren’t words you want to hear a coach use after a playoff game. Jon Cooper used both in referring to the Lightning’s start to the Eastern Conference semifinals Sunday night.
“It was extremely disappointing, to be honest,” the coach said after the 3-2 Game 1 loss to the Bruins at Toronto’s Scotiabank Arena. “There was a period we had against Columbus in the last game (in the first round) that was dreadful, and I thought our first period (Sunday) was right along those lines.”
The Lightning spent much of the opening period trying to find their footing. They didn’t let the Bruins dominate the zone time, but they still gave Boston chances to rack up early shots.
The silver lining: That allowed Andrei Vasilevskiy settle in, and the goalie played a better game than his statistics line of allowing three goals on 31 shots depicts. But by halfway through the period, the Bruins had already put 10 shots on goal to the Lightning’s five, and by the end of the period Tampa Bay trailed 1-0.
Center Tyler Johnson said the Lightning started out sloppier than they usually play. Defenseman Victor Hedman said they were disappointed with the way they came out.
“Our start was bad,” center Cedric Paquette summed up.
They didn’t duck the facts but did say the first period wasn’t everything.
“By no means did we lose the game in that first period, but we didn’t help ourselves,” Cooper said. “When you give a team the lead and shrink the game to 40 minutes, it’s going to be tough on you.”
They all said the Lightning got better as the game went, which they did. But this isn’t a one-off issue.
Slow starts plagued the Lightning off and on throughout the regular season.
When the season was shut down March 12 because of the coronavirus, the Lightning had lost their last two games and three of five, and in all three losses, they began poorly. They lost to Boston, bottom-dwelling Detroit and Toronto in that week.
Cooper used that same word — “embarrassing” — for the Lightning’s poor showing in their final game against Toronto in March.
Over and over, the Lightning insisted they had addressed the problem and would fix it. They said the same thing about taking too-frequent penalties, also an issue in these playoffs. But those problems have cropped back up again.
“Playoffs is a tougher game, so you have to play a full, complete game,” Johnson said. “Boston’s a great team. You can’t give them any life, and can’t give them some of the opportunities we were giving them.
“In that first period, we’re pretty lucky that we had ‘Vasy’ in net, and he made some big saves for us.”
There wasn’t a lot Vasilevskiy could have done to stop any of the Bruins’ goals.
In the first period, center Charlie Coyle tipped a shot from defenseman Brandon Carlo that had pulled Vasilevskiy nearly out of the net. Vasilevskiy was in position for the original shot. Then Coyle got his stick on the puck and deflected it over the goalie’s shoulder.
In the second period, the Bruins scored a power-play goal on a smart play by forward David Krejci. He carried the puck around the ice, looking for a passing lane. He got from about the point to below the right circle, pulling Vasilevskiy toward that post. Krejci found an opening and snapped the puck to wing David Pastrnak at the left circle for a one-timer. 2-0 Boston.
Finally, in the third period, the so-called “Perfection Line” lived up to the nickname.
Center Patrice Bergeron stuck on Lightning defenseman Ryan McDonagh and lifted his stick to steal the puck as McDonagh tried to carry it out from behind his net. Pastrnak gathered the puck and quickly slid it over to Brad Marchand, who ripped it on Vasilevskiy. 3-0 Boston.
By the time Hedman brought Tampa Bay within one with on his second goal of the third period, the Lightning had one minute, 14 seconds of desperation time to try to tie it.
First Period—1, Boston, Coyle 3 (Marchand, Carlo), 18:52. Penalties—Chara, Bos (Cross Checking), 0:29; Sergachev, TB (Holding), 11:40.
Second Period—2, Boston, Pastrnak 2 (Krejci, Krug), 4:34 (pp). Penalties—Hedman, TB (Tripping), 3:08; Bergeron, Bos (Holding), 5:50; Wagner, Bos (Roughing), 13:36; Killorn, TB (Interference), 16:46.
Third Period—3, Boston, Marchand 4 (Pastrnak, Bergeron), 1:17. 4, Tampa Bay, Hedman 2 (Palat, Point), 8:50. 5, Tampa Bay, Hedman 3 (Shattenkirk, Johnson), 18:46. Penalties—Ritchie, Bos (Roughing), 2:49; Bogosian, TB (Roughing), 2:49.
Shots on Goal—Boston 15-7-9_31. Tampa Bay 10-18-9_37.
Power-play opportunities—Boston 1 of 3; Tampa Bay 0 of 3.
Goalies—Boston, Halak 4-1-0 (37 shots-35 saves). Tampa Bay, Vasilevskiy 6-3-0 (31-28).
Referees—Francis Charron, Chris Lee. Linesmen—Derek Amell, Michel Cormier.