TAMPA, Fla. — A day after getting overmatched in a 4-2 loss to the Washington Capitals, the Tampa Bay Lightning were trying to stay positive. After all, it was in the second round that the team lost 6-2 to the Boston Bruins, only to rattle off four straight wins.
That could happen here. And yet, Lightning head coach Jon Cooper said the team could not afford to have another bad game like this.
“We can’t keep playing with fire,” he said. “The margin for error is smaller and smaller. I think if you bottled up all the bad things in those first 10 games, it would be half of what we did in one game last night. We fuelled the fire of a good team.”
That being said, no one seemed down or depressed as the Lightning went back to practice on Saturday. A lot of these players went to the Stanley Cup final in 2015 and played in the conference final in 2016, so they know that there are ups and downs in every series. It’s how you rebound from the disappointments that ultimately define a team.
“Well, it’s just a response,” said Lightning captain Steven Stamkos. “I mean, we had it last series, kind of similar start where we didn’t come out very well and knowing the importance of winning the next game on home ice. We’ll look to do that tomorrow. I think our execution needs to be a lot better and that’s execution with a game plan and execution when we’re trying to make plays with the puck.”
“One thing to remember is that this isn’t the NCAA basketball tournament,” said Cooper. “It’s best-of-seven, so you get some chances to make some adjustments and improve your game.”
That being said, the Lightning don’t necessarily expect that they will be able to roll over the Capitals just because they did the same against the Bruins. Tampa Bay respects its opponent. Washington won the Metropolitan Division and knocked off the two-time defending champion Pittsburgh Penguins in the second round.
“If you look at Washington last year, they lost in Game 7 to the Penguins,” said Cooper. “They were that close to being where they are now if some breaks here and there had have gone their way. They have a really good team and they’ve always had a good team. (Goalie Braden) Holtby’s appeared to have found his game and he’s as good as ever.”
The Capitals, meanwhile, know that whatever they saw from the Lightning in Game 1 will be a lot better for Game 2.
“You have to expect it’s not going to be easier,” said Lars Eller.
HOLTBY HOLDING HIS OWN
That Braden Holtby has a .925 save percentage in this year’s playoffs is a bit surprising, considering he began the post-season as the back-up to Phillip Grubauer. At the same time, as a Vezina Trophy winner in 2015-16, it really shouldn’t be.
“We never doubted it,” said Capitals forward Jay Beagle. “I’ve obviously played with him for a while now. The way he carries himself, the way he works every day and what he brings, it’s amazing honestly to watch him.
“As players, you’re going to go through harder time and there’s going to be ups and downs, and every time that’s happened to him in his career, he’s always stepped up and it makes him stronger. That’s something special.”
VASILEVSKIY’S VEZINA IN QUESTION
While Holtby has found his game, there is concern that Tampa Bay’s Andrei Vasilevskiy might have temporarily lost his own. The Vezina Trophy finalist was pulled after allowing four goals on 25 shots through two periods in Game 1. It was the first time since March 13 that he did not finish a game.
“They had pretty good scoring chances last night, but I gave up four (goals),” said Vasilevskiy. “I played two periods, so I guess I have to be better next game.”
DEFENCE WINS CHAMPIONSHIPS
The days of Washington trying to outscore its opponents by playing a firebrand style of pond hockey appear to be over.
As the Lightning saw in Game 1, when they were limited to 21 shots and had 19 shots blocked, this is a Capitals team that puts defence above everything else. According to the players, the change in mindset began later in the season after the team gave up seven goals twice in an eight-game span.
“There were two days at the end of the regular season where we sat down and we really focused on our D-zone and really focused on what we have to do to succeed,” said Capitals forward T.J. Oshie. “A lot of guys take some pretty tough shots. And it doesn’t feel good when you take that shot off the foot or a bad spot. But guys are doing it. And guys are taking pride in doing it. It’s engrained in us.”
BACKSTROM MIGHT NOT BE BACK IN
The Capitals did not practice on Saturday, so the status of injured centre Nicklas Backstrom remains unclear. Backstrom has missed the last two games with a right hand injury he suffered in Game 5 of a second-round series against Pittsburgh while blocking a shot.
Another reason for Washington’s success in this year’s playoffs has been its No. 2-ranked power play, which connected for two goals in Game 1. Tampa Bay’s power play is ranked third, but went 1-for-3 on Friday.
“It’s very important,” said Eller. “One goal can change a game and one game can change a series.”
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