The Tampa Bay Lightning have been road warriors in the last two postseasons. Last year, there were big wins in Detroit, Montreal and New York. This postseason saw two overtime wins in Brooklyn and then a game one win in the conference finals against Pittsburgh.
A golden opportunity was missed to take a commanding 2-0 lead over the Penguins, as Sidney Crosby’s overtime winner in game two tied the series. Tampa Bay trailed 2-0 but scored twice late in the first period to tie it. After that brief spurt, the Lightning couldn’t get much offense generated and were outshot 16-6 in the third period and 41-21 in the game.
Tampa Bay’s lack of puck possession was a deciding factor in the loss. “It’s a concern, there’s no question,” said Lightning coach Jon Cooper. “I think we’ve put ourselves in positions to have the puck more, but we’re not being very smart about how we’re playing. We’re not playing as a group of five on the ice.”
Andrei Vasilevskiy’s 38 saves were the reason that Tampa Bay didn’t lose in regulation, but the Lightning won’t want to see him get such a workout when the series shifts back to Florida. “Pittsburgh is a very talented team, so when they have the puck, it’s obviously very difficult,” said Tampa Bay center Tyler Johnson. “The more we can have it, the more we can play a puck possession game, the better it is.”
The Lightning have emphasized speed in their effort to create more offense. Even in the game one victory, Tampa Bay was limited to 20 shots. “I think we, especially yesterday, too many turnovers, and that kind of feeds into their game,” said Tampa Bay defenseman Victor Hedman. “There’s two fast teams going at it, and it’s high pace out there. But obviously, we’ve got to possess the puck a little bit more and get pucks deep.”
The Penguins deserve credit for their solid play in game two, as the hottest team in hockey won a game they desperately needed. “By no means am I sitting here saying, oh, gosh, we’re a way better team,” Cooper said. “Not at all. They have a lot to do with it as well. You don’t get to the conference final by fluke, I don’t believe. They’ve got a really good team, and there’s a reason why, I guess, they have the best record since February, whatever it is, and they’re playing well.”
Despite the overtime loss in game two, there should be some satisfaction in taking the home-ice from Pittsburgh. Not many people expected this to be a short series anyway. “I don’t think anybody’s going to sit here and say, well, Tampa won game 1,” Cooper said. “We were just going to sweep our way through the series. That wasn’t going to happen. We expect this to be a long, tough series.”
If Tampa Bay had won game two, it would have meant back-to-back losses for the Penguins for the first time since January. Still, Cooper doesn’t think he’s seen the best from his team yet. “We’ve got to play better to win this series, there’s no doubt,” Cooper said. “We haven’t put our best foot forward. I think now that we’ve played them two times, we know a little bit more what to expect, but I know we’ve got more in the tank than what we’ve showed.”
Johnson admitted that Tampa Bay hadn’t played it’s “A” game but that can be a positive considering they almost lead 2-0 despite not playing their best. “Well, I mean, it’s a good thing, but at the same time, we know we have to do better,” Johnson said. “Game 2, Vas, he really had to stand on his head at the beginning to really keep us in it, and we were able to crawl our way back. But we need to play a full 60-minute game, and we’ve got to do that in game 3.”