After (almost) every Tampa Bay Lightning playoff game, I’ll be here to offer up my thoughts about the game. Some of these thoughts will be analytical, some emotional, and some just whatever. Sometimes these thoughts will be really nicely structured and thought out ahead of time. Sometimes, they’ll just be a stream of conscious talking. We’ll never know until I start writing.
Fair warning, I think today is going to be more stream of conscious talking. That loss to the Columbus Blue Jackets in game two was just embarrassing. After all the talk of learning from game one they came out for game two and... did the same thing, except worse. All three of Columbus’ even strength goals came directly off of turnovers. The penalty kill gave up two goals as they couldn’t win face offs and clear the puck.
For much of the game, the Lightning couldn’t get into the middle of the ice at all for shots. Most of their shots were coming from the points and around the edges. Columbus meanwhile had little trouble getting into the middle to take shots. Especially after the Lightning turned the puck over.
The fourth line played some pretty good hockey last night. They were physical and controlled the puck. The problem is that those three guys aren’t highly skilled offensive players and they couldn’t get the puck into dangerous spots either. But I’ll give them credit, they were the only forwards to not get scored against by Columbus at even strength.
When the Lightning did finally get on the board in the third period to make it a 3-1 game and give the fans some false hope, it didn’t come from any great spectacular play. Mikhail Sergachev had the puck and was being pressured so he snapped the puck at the net as quickly as he could. It hit a Columbus skate in front of the net and just barely trickled over the line.
Now, let’s talk about Nikita Kucherov. You could see his frustration growing throughout the game. I noticed him talking (and sometimes he looked like he was yelling) with the referees throughout the night. It seemed he was getting frustrated that he was being obstructed all game, and yet, Columbus was called for one obstruction penalty and it wasn’t even one committed against Kucherov.
And then came a tripping call against Kucherov. He had just moved the puck up the boards and then continued to swing his stick around catching Markus Nutivaara in the thigh. Nutivaara promptly fell to the ice to draw the call. As far as calls go in the playoffs, this was a pretty weak call by the referees and was not close to the standard they had set in this game. But Kucherov let his frustrations boil over.
Nutivaara was still down on his knees along the board trying to play the puck. Instead of Kucherov playing the puck to stop the play, he decided to check Nutivaara into the boards. It wasn’t an overly hard hit, but it was hard enough to drive Nutivaara’s head into the boards. It was an extremely dumb and bone headed play by Kucherov.
Now he’ll be facing a hearing today with the Department of Player Safety. I am fully expecting him to get suspended for one or two games. Maybe it will be good for him. Maybe he’ll get his head screwed on right having to sit in the press box and watch his team attempt to keep the series going without. Kucherov hasn’t missed a playoff game since he was a healthy scratch in the 2014 playoffs. But it sure looks like he will now.
The Lightning will have to go into Columbus for game three and find a way to win without their best player. It is an absolutely must win game. Yes, a team or two has come back from down 0-3. But it is absolutely not where the Lightning want to be. Can they come back from being down 0-2 in this series? Yes. But as we all saw with the Washington Capitals series, it is extremely hard to win four out of five games in the playoffs.
Hopefully we’ll see some changes to the line up. I expect Ryan Callahan will get the nod with Kucherov sitting in the press box. Hopefully Anton Stralman and Braydon Coburn can get back into the lineup. Those two deserve to be playing. They’ve played so many games in the playoffs. They’ve been good players this year. Jan Rutta should come out. I’d like to see Dan Girardi take a game off, but I could also see Sergachev getting the press box as well. I think Cooper has to make some changes on the blue line and I will be very disappointed if he doesn’t.
They need to win game three and game four in Columbus. Absolutely have to. Just winning one will keep the series going, but then you’re looking at having to win three in a row. Yeah, this team did that a lot in the regular season. But this isn’t the regular season. This is the playoffs. Where everyone has the same rest. Everyone has the same opponent. It’s not easy. It’s hard.
I just hope we haven’t seen the Lightning for the last time in Amalie Arena this season.