It was tough to swallow such a decisive game one victory by the Dallas Stars Saturday night as they thoroughly beat the Tampa Bay Lightning 4-1. The Star dominated the first two periods before the Lightning turned things up in the third. By then, it was too little, too late.
But what went wrong for the Lightning to start the Stanley Cup Finals?
Well, for starters, there was zero intensity or energy at the beginning of the game. It truly looked like a team that played 48 hours ago against a team that had rested since Monday – reminiscent of the Eastern Conference Finals game one where the well rested Lightning just absolutely took it too an Islanders team coming off game seven. The Stars had plenty of time to not only rest and recover but to research and study their opponent in preparation of the finals.
Next, we have that first goal by Joel Hanley. That was not on Andrei Vasilevskiy – it was 100% on Zach Bogosian. Bogosian made a terrible decision to race to the boards in defense of teammate Brayden Point who had been slammed against the wall and in doing so he abandoned his defensive assignment. That left Hanley wide open to skate freely in front of the net and let go a shot unobstructed.
Okay, one goal – no big deal. It was the sixth straight game the Lightning went down 1-0. In typical fashion, they find a way to tie it up and escape the first period tied at 1-1. Then, the second period happened.
There were two key miscues by the Lightning in that second period and both resulted in goals for the Dallas Stars. In fact, they were identical mistakes by two different players. Both Mikhail Sergachev and Luke Schenn dropped to the ice in an attempt to block a puck. Unfortunately, both dropped too early. Both Jamie Oleksiak and Joel Kiviranta were able to capitalize off the mistakes as Vasilevskiy was essentially hung out to dry. The back breaker was Kiviranta’s goal with just 28 seconds remaining in the period.
At one point, the Stars led the shots on goal by a tally of 17-9. By the end of the game, the Lightning out-shot Dallas 36-20. In the third period alone, the shot attempts were 43-4 in favor of the Lightning. They peppered Anton Khudobin all period long, dominated puck possession, but just couldn’t get anything to bounce into the net.
There were plenty of opportunities. Alex Killorn had a shot that was deflected off the tip of Khudobin’s skate. Ondrej Palat was in perfect position for a rebound and the puck went between his legs. Khudobin literally snatched a puck that was behind him out of mid-air as he was falling down to prevent an Anthony Cirelli goal.
Puck luck is a real thing and the Lightning just didn’t have it in game one.
I stressed the word “resiliency” following Tampa Bay’s loss in game five of the Eastern Conference Finals and I will stress it again. How does this team bounce back from this loss? If they play 60 minutes the way they played the third period Saturday night, they’ll be just fine. However, anymore starts or stretches like they had for the first two periods and this series could get out of hand in a hurry.
Since entering the bubble, the Lightning have not lost two straight games. Is Dallas going to be the first team to force Tampa Bay to face such adversity? It’s possible, for sure. The Lightning did go down 1-0 in the series against Boston and rallied back to win four straight games to win the series. They had trouble getting pucks past Joonas Korpisalo in round one and Semyon Varlamov in round three, but they figured out how to do it and got the job done.
This series is far from over. When the Lightning won the Stanley Cup in 2004, they lost game one to the Calgary Flames by a score of – you guessed it – 4-1.
Even just last year, the St. Louis Blues dropped game one to the Boston Bruins. Pat Maroon knows a little something about that.
The Lightning, I still believe, are the more talented team from top to bottom. However, we all know that running into a hot goaltender can derail the better team’s ability to win a series. Everyone has a plan until they get punched in the mouth, right? Khudobin is as hot as they come right now but I can’t see him withstanding barrages like he saw in the third period of game one and continue to stand on his head the way he did. If the Lightning get off to a faster start and generate more scoring chances early in game two, they will break through and score they way we’re used to seeing.
If not, then they better tighten up defensively because we’re going to see some tough, gritty, grind it out style games ending 1-0 or 2-1 all series long.