There's nothing more frustrating than doing just about everything right and coming up short.
That's what happened to the Tampa Bay Lightning on Thursday night on Amalie Arena; the Bolts dominated control of the puck, severely limited Detroit's chances, and flung rubber at Petr Mrazek all night long.
And they lost.
The challenge now is to find the mental fortitude to stick to a gameplan that saw them hang 46 shots on one of the best shot suppression teams in the entire NHL while only giving up 14 the other way. While the result was mindnumbing and heartbreaking, the process was quite good. Tampa Bay played better in Game 1 vs. Detroit than any of the four games against the Montreal Canadiens a season ago.
There are obvious holes, and areas of improvement; but even the long-maligned power play -- which came up empty on a whopping seven opportunities on Thursday -- looked more competent than it has in some time, with meaningful puck movement and shots towards Mrazek from everywhere.
Ben Bishop has to be better. Deflections and power plays happen; when your team keeps your shots faced under 15 you have to find a way to stop at least one more puck. The soft, spinning backhand from Luke Glendening -- which ended up the game-winner -- simply cannot go in the net. Not if the Lightning are going to tie up the series heading back to Joe Louis Arena.
The Bolts also need to do a better job of cracking through Detroit's shell; the Red Wings have yet to face a deficit in this series, so we won't know how they play in a "down a goal" situation just yet, but with the lead they were content to collapse, box out, and tie up sticks. They had a few bounces go their way, no doubt, but that Tampa Bay manged to tip just 2 of their 46 shots on goal was no coincidence, but a point of emphasis for the guys in front of Mrazek.
"Get to the net and make life difficult for the goaltender" is a bit of a cliche but it is absolutely critical for the Lightning in Game 2. Mrazek was routinely punching out rebounds of the long-distance shots, but they always found their way to friendly sticks. The Bolts must find a way to consistently take away Mrazek's eyes or get bodies in the slot to pounce on loose pucks that are blocked or rebounded into the scoring chance area.
Ultimately, these are all little tweaks. The Lightning played great in Game 1; Mrazek was near-perfect. Tying the series might just be a matter of sticking to what worked and getting a bounce to break the dam.
We'll find out this afternoon.