Where: Amalie Arena, Tampa, Florida
When: 7:15 PM EDT | Tickets: Check availability
Media: NBC (local) | 970 AM WFLA (radio) | Twitter Live Stream
Opponent Coverage: Second City Hockey, The Committed Indian
. . .
Seriously, take a moment and re-read that statement and think about it. Not for typos and grammar errors (which this author excels at) but for the situation.
Finished? Did it click yet? It should have, and the entire "Safe is Death" moniker isn't the driving force or reaction you should have. Something tangible, a non-catchphrase, to prove the truth to the phrase would be appropriate here. And that evidence of the situation, the risk that was in place, is right in front of you... or actually just behind you in the recent past in the form of the Western Conference Finals. Games 2 and 4 were overtime wins with game 4 specifically being down-but-not-out responding to the Anaheim Ducks. Chicago kept playing and didn't lapse into a protective shell to hold the lead.
The lesson Lightning fans (and anyone in sports) that needs to be taken from that is the fact it ain't over ‘til it's over (bless your heart, Yogi Berra... and shout out to Lenny Kravitz while we're at it). A 1-0 lead is nothing in this league, and the Lightning themselves are evidence of that. No goalie is infallible (hello Carey Price, Henrik Lundqvist) and no lead is safe unless you've demoralized the opponent by way of the last tally (game 5 of the Eastern Conference Finals again the Rangers... and Game 7 for that matter).
We've also seen the Lightning blow leads before because of pacing - putting it all out there early and retracting into a prevent defense too early in the 3rd. Are they spent at this point? Is Jon Cooper wary of the team making errors that give up goals? The Bolts do play a responsible two-way game, but it's when they focus too heavily on one direction or the other that problems begin to arise by way of opponents capitalizing (offense-first can lead to odd-man rushes for opposition, while defense-first is opportunity knocking).
Cooper didn't exactly make it clear what to expect with the lineup tonight at the Amalie: His quip contradicted the media reports that the "be ready" decree has fallen and drama-laden forward Jonathan Drouin will take warm-ups with the club tonight. Cooper has favored the 11 forward, 7 defensemen alignment during the playoffs, a 12/6 alignment would certainly seem more favorable for Drouin to pop into the lineup with. Then again, the numbers won't likely be decided on until game time when the formal lineup gets announced.
Three guys who will be in the lineup and are sound two-way forwards are Ondrej Palat, Tyler Johnson and Nikita Kucherov, the triple threat of the Bolts second line. Johnson admits up front that what the trio could be contributing is not what they've been putting out... at least so far:
Lightning C Tyler Johnson: "Right now, our line, we're just playing average. Not as good as we should. We need to step it up."— Roy Cummings (@RCummingsTBO) June 6, 2015
While Johnson and Co. can very well step things up, the NHL by-and-large is aware of them by now. They're facing top notch line matches (Joel Quenneville is notoriously good with this). While this doesn't mean they're going to be stopped from now on (well, Blackhawks fans would prefer it that way for the time being at least) it does mean that they're going to have to do as Johnson suggests - step it up. The two-line offensive threat (oh, and secondary scoring, let's not forget that) is what stretches and stresses the opposing team out - having to cover it all. In fact, the TKO threat is what's enabled the top-line combo of Alex Killorn, Valtteri Filppula and Steven Stamkos time to click and the opportunity to thrive, which they've done.
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