The Tampa Bay Lightning were flat from start to finish in a shutout at the hands of the Colorado Avalanche.
Forget the magic. Any theatrics went to bed with the Tampa Bay Lightning team that showed up on the ice Thursday night. All that was left was a disinterested team that, for much of the night, looked like they wanted to be anyplace other than on the Amalie Arena ice.
Coming off such a heart-pounding shootout win like the Lightning did Tuesday night, starting the game flat wouldn’t be much of a surprise. Heck, a 1-0 hole after the first 20 minutes could be labeled as good given the Bolts’ propensity at achieving comeback wins so far this season.
Unfortunately, that wasn’t the case here with Colorado Avalanche goaltender Semyon Varlamov continuing his stellar play in stifling what is normally a very potent attack. One of the most dangerous ones in the entire NHL.
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In the first period, both teams fired less than 10 shots but it was the Avs who broke the ice first. Matt Duchene shot the puck on Tampa Bay Lightning netminder Ben Bishop who had difficulty finding the rebound.
That gave Duchene enough time to swoop in, grab his loose change and deposit it behind Bishop with under a minute remaining before intermission.
The second period saw much of the same boring, skating with little purpose, off-target passing as the first. A few good chances here and there but nothing sustained. Give the Avs credit.
They blocked most potential scoring chances, stole the puck before heading up ice on a rush of their own. If all else failed, there was Varlamov flashing his glove or just kicking his leg out with such precision the puck landed on a teammate’s stick.
With the middle frame winding down, the Lightning were given a break when Duchene collided with teammate Ben Smith before shooting. The puck then lay there momentarily before a Lightning player collected it and began to rush up ice. A 1-on-1 quickly became a 2-on-1 and Bolts fans had to be thinking “GOAL!!”
Sadly, it wasn’t meant to be as Varlamov made a huge save. If you go back and watch it again, the millisecond between Duchene losing the puck and the Lightning player picking it up could have been the difference in catching the Avs flat footed to the point that it was a 2-on-0, not a 2-on-1 and possible score which would have tied the game at one apiece.
Such second-guessing probably isn’t wise, though; not when there’s nothing that can be done to change the final outcome. One team’s misfortune can turn into momentum for another, however, and that’s exactly what happened here.
After briefly being looked at by the Avs medical staff on the bench after his collision, Duchene returned for one final shift before the horn sounded to indicate the end of 40 minutes.
He parked himself in front of Bishop and, as luck would have it, got his stick on a shot from teammate Patrick Wiercioch. The slight deflection gave him his second goal of the night and his team a 2-0 lead heading into the locker room.
In the third, the Tampa Bay Lightning started to show a little life. Whether it be firing shots from all angles or drawing penalties, they looked primed to bust out at any minute.
Then, the luck from Tuesday night turned against them. With Bishop behind the net ready to play the puck, it took another goofy bounce off the end boards and bounced to a waiting Andreas Martinsen who deposited it into the empty net. 3-0 Avs and the Lightning likely wanted nothing more than to leave, dumping this game into the wastebasket on their way out.
Of course, that wasn’t an option with 12 minutes remaining in regulation. As for the fans, no one could have been blamed had they decided to beat the arena traffic by skipping out when that fluky goal was scored. I can tell you, most of the team checked out mentally at that point.
Sensing the Lightning’s frustration mounting, Duchene caught the Bolts flat footed. He passed up to Carl Soderberg who beat top defenseman Victor Hedman before roofing the puck over the shoulder of Bishop. 4-0 Avs and the fact there were over seven minutes remaining had to be a cruel feeling for everyone wearing Lightning blue.
As you can probably imagine, the horn which ended this game was a more than welcome sound for Lightning players, coaches, and fans alike. It signified the end of one horrific night while still ensuring other good nights should follow. That’s the beauty of Game Four in a long, 82 game season.
Moving forward, there are some areas which need tweaking to ensure nights like this one do not become the norm.
The top, most pressing, priority would be to play a full 60-minute game. The Tampa Bay Lightning have not done that yet and, while comebacks are all great and dandy, sometimes there’s not enough left in the tank to pull those every night.
Simply put, falling behind early in games or coming from behind late is less than ideal. In fact, against top notch teams like the Pittsburgh Penguins and San Jose Sharks, it’s an easy recipe for disaster.
Another issue would be the power play. While they started this particular game fairly well, the overpassing became more noticeable as it wore on. I know it’s early and it did click in the season opener, but one good game isn’t enough.
How many times do the coaches have to harp on players to shoot the puck rather than pass 500 times while on the man advantage before it sinks in? That’s got to be the million dollar question given the Lightning’s persistent struggles with the extra man dating back to last season.
While neither of these made a difference in the Tampa Bay Lightning’s 3-0-0 start, it proved pivotal in their first loss. An early goal against the Avs would have had the Bolts feeling good about themselves and might have been the thing they needed to complete a perfect 4-0 homestand to begin the season. It wasn’t meant to be though and that’s all that matters.
After finishing their season-opening homestand 3-1-0, the Tampa Bay Lightning now embark on a long six-game road trip through Eastern Canada and the New York area. Their first stop will be in Ottawa on Saturday night, facing old friend Guy Boucher and his Ottawa Senators.
Can the Tampa Bay Lightning get back on the winning track north of the border? While nothing’s guaranteed, an effort better than the one shown against Colorado should give them a chance.