Stanley Cup Playoffs: Tampa Bay Lightning surge too little, too late against Capitals

(Photo by Mike Carlson/Getty Images)
(Photo by Mike Carlson/Getty Images) /

The Tampa Bay Lightning allowed their long break between series to drastically affect their play as they fell 4-2 to the Washington Capitals in Game 1 of the Eastern Conference Final.

The Bolts Nation has been electric lately in anticipation of the start of the next round. Tonight, the moment everyone has been waiting for has finally arrived. The Tampa Bay Lightning opened the doors to the Amalie Arena to host the Washington Capitals in Game 1 of the Eastern Conference Final.

Regrettably, the Lightning didn’t exactly get off to the kind of start one would’ve hoped. A little past the seven-minute mark in the first period, Capitals defenseman Michal Kempny scored his first postseason goal to give the Capitals the early lead.

Under normal circumstances, this would be the point and time where everyone here in the Bolts Nation would start analyzing where things went wrong and what the Lightning needed to do in order to get back in the game. The good news is, this isn’t where we were at this point in the game.

The Tampa Bay Lightning lost Game 1 of the Eastern Conference Semifinal against the Boston Bruins and we all know how this situation played out. At the same time, the Lightning needs to find their game if they want to stay strong against a team like the Capitals.

It wasn’t long after the goal from Kempny before the Capitals attempted to increase their lead over the Lightning. Former Lightning forward Brett Connolly charged the net and attempted to put the puck past Andrei Vasilevskiy and into the back of the net. Thankfully, Vasy came up with a huge save.

There was a little less than three minutes left in the period when the Lightning would get the first opportunity with the man advantage. Unfortunately, the Lightning’s ailing Power Play wasn’t able to capitalize on the advantage. The Capitals, on the other hand…

Nikita Kucherov found himself all alone, charging toward Capitals goaltender Braden Holtby, After an absolutely beautiful play, Kucherov would put the puck in the back of the net. The bad news here is the celebration was very short-lived. Almost immediately, the referees would waive off the goal.

Ultimately, a horrendous line change would lead to the Lightning being whistled for Too Many Men on the Ice. Not only would the Lightning lose their tying-goal as a result, the Capitals would now finish off the period on the Power Play. This is where things went terribly wrong.

Capitals forward T.J. Oshie won the faceoff in the Lightning zone and before anyone had any idea what happened, Capitals captain Alex Ovechkin fired off the puck and hit the back of the net to extend their lead to two. Thanks to a ridiculous mistake, what should’ve been a tie game was now a deflating deficit.

The Lightning played with little to no urgency in the first period of play. The Capitals held the Bolts to a mere two shots on goal in the first period. That’s right, ladies and gentlemen; the Lightning had a whole two shots on goal in the first 20 minutes of play. Given the amount of talent the Bolts have on their roster, this is simply and utterly unacceptable.

Ironically enough, the Lightning dominated the faceoff circle throughout the first period. The Bolts controlled the faceoff circle 39-61 in the first, despite the fact it was the very last faceoff of the period that led to the Capitals Power Play goal at the end of the period.

Someone in the locker room needed to have a serious discussion with the team during the intermission. The truth of the matter is rink rust is a real thing, but there is a difference between rust and the way the Lightning played in the first period. Something needed to change, and quickly.

Regrettably, for the Lightning, the second period was much of the same from the first period. Less than three minutes into the second period, the Capitals would extend their lead over the Bolts to three with a goal from forward Jay Beagle, who picked up his second goal of the postseason.

You could almost feel the air leave the Amalie Arena. The crowd was silent with their hands on their heads trying to comprehend where the team who just won four straight against the Boston Bruins had disappeared to.

Just over four minutes later, things would get exponentially worse for the Bolts and their fans. At the six-minute mark in the period, Nikita Kucherov would get whistled for Roughing against Capitals forward Andre Burkovsky. This would open the door for the Caps to score their second Power Play goal of the night with a goal from forward Lars Eller.

Much like the first 20 minutes of play, the Lightning seemed to play with no urgency whatsoever. This is rather surprising for a team with a 4-0 deficit. You would think they would be doing everything within their power to get out from under. Unfortunately, when the buzzer sounded to end the period, the Lightning would trail the Capitals 4-0.

The Bolts showed some modicum of improvement in regards to shots on goal in the second period. Unlike their two shots on goal in the first, the Lightning managed to muster eight shots on goal in the second. Unfortunately, the Capitals came up with 16 for a two-period total of 25-10 in favor of the Caps.

The Lightning now found themselves with their backs against the wall. If the Bolts didn’t change something immediately, they would find themselves on the losing end of Game 1. While this has worked for the Lightning in the past, this is not the place one wants to find themselves in against the Capitals.

Tampa Bay Lightning
Tampa Bay Lightning /

Tampa Bay Lightning

When the Lightning took the ice to start the third period of play, there was something noticeably different. Tampa Bay Lightning Head Coach Jon Cooper elected to pull goaltender Andrei Vasilevskiy. Lightning netminder Louis Domingue would replace Vasilevskiy between the pipes.

Amazingly enough, the Lightning seemed to have found the spark they were missing in the first two periods of play. Seeing a player like Andrei Vasilevskiy, who is widely considered to be the Lightning’s rock this season, get pulled in a critical game like this one made the rest of the team stop and think for a moment.

A little over three minutes into the third period, the Lightning found themselves on the Power Play once again. This time it would be Alex Chiasson who would be sent to the sin bin for Slashing against Lightning forward Alex Killorn. Suddenly, the Lightning had a newfound energy.

Lightning captain Steven Stamkos would fire off a one-timer off a pass from his linemate Nikita Kucherov to beat Capitals netminder Braden Holtby and pick up the Lightning’s first goal of the game. The Amalie Arena found new life after Stamkos hit the back of the net. The Bolts were officially in this game.

It took a little under 10 minutes for the Lightning to strike once again. This time, it would be forward Ondrej Palat who would get a piece of the action and pick up his fifth goal of the postseason to bring the Lightning within two goals of the Capitals. Unfortunately, this is about as far as the Lightning’s “comeback” would go.

When the final buzzer sounded, the Tampa Bay Lightning would fall 4-2 to the Washington Capitals in Game 1 of the Eastern Conference Final. Throughout the game, there were many comparisons which could be made between this and Game 1 against the Boston Bruins. The bad news is, as time continued to tick off the clock the differences in these two games became much more glaring.

The Lightning skated with zero urgency throughout the game. The aggressiveness the Lightning showed against the Bruins was nowhere to be found against the Capitals tonight. The truth of the matter is this had a lot to do with the amount of time the Lightning was forced to wait for the round to start.

Must Read: Stop Whining About The Lightning Dress Code Policy

The Bolts never play well in their first game after a long break and tonight was a glaring example. The only upside here, if you even want to call it this, is the Lightning is a very good rebound team. After being stomped in Game 1 against the Bruins, the Lightning came back to win four straight.

The thing is, the Capitals aren’t the Bruins and the Lightning can’t depend on this sort of comeback every single round. The Capitals are a dangerous team, especially on the Power Play. Also, when a team makes the Conference Final for the first time since 1998, there is a certain fire in their souls driving them to win.

If the Lightning wants to seize control of the series and shift momentum back in their direction, they are going to have to play the complete opposite in Game 2. They will need to come out of the tunnel with purpose, be strong on the forecheck, limit the Capitals opportunities, and put the puck on the net. More important, they will need to stay far, far away from the penalty box.

Next: Nikita Kucherov, Alex Ovechkin Collide In ECF

The Lightning has tomorrow to gather themselves and prepare for the next battle. Then, on Sunday night, the Lightning will get back to business as they take on the Capitals in Game 2. The puck is scheduled to drop at 8:00 p.m. Here’s hoping fans see a completely different Lightning team than took the ice tonight.