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.
The Lightning have shit the bed.
Simple as that. In an absolutely must win game, they came out and got three shots on goal in the first period. Ok, maybe they’ll go into the intermission and some yelling will happen. Some paint will be peeled. And they came out and actually got 11 shots on goal in the second period.
But proceeded to allow a rebound goal where Steven Stamkos failed to pick up Matt Duchene coming down the wing. Oh, and Ryan Callahan blew up Zach Werenski with a hit... that was very clearly interference and got called for it. They played a pretty good 90 seconds of that penalty kill. But it was all for naught when Oliver Bjorkstrand was left unmarked at the top of the circles and sniped one in.
The Lightning finally showed up in the third period. They finally figured out how to play Lightning hockey again. Unfortunately, Sergei Bobrovsky has figured out how to play in the playoffs, with the Lightning giving him all the confidence in the world after shellacking him in the first period of the first game. He made almost all the saves. The only one he gave up was a redirect from in front by Ondrej Palat. Otherwise though, Bobrovsky played lights out.
It also didn’t help that the Lightning hit at least two posts on the night.
The effort hasn’t been there. The execution hasn’t been there. The puck luck hasn’t been there. Nothing has gone right for the Lightning. They’ve played a grand total of two good periods out of nine. They simply have not been good enough.
Are they done yet? No...but...it sure looks bleak. In the 100 plus year history of the NHL, exactly four teams have come back from a 3-0 deficit. If they want to join the Toronto Maple Leafs, New York Islanders, Philadelphia Flyers, and Los Angeles Kings in this category, they’re going to have to come out and play the next 12 periods of hockey like they played that third period.
There is a bright spot in looking at those four teams. The 2013-14 Kings did it in the first round and went on to win the Stanley Cup. The 2009-10 Philadelphia Flyers did it in the second round and lost in the Finals. The 1974-75 New York Islanders did it in the second round and then almost did it again in in the third round when they lost the first three, won the next three, but then lost game seven. The 1941-42 Toronto Maple Leafs did it in the finals when the playoffs were just two rounds long.
The Lightning will get Nikita Kucherov back for game four. Hopefully he’ll come out with a fire lit under his ass and takeover the game. We’ve seen him do it so many times this season. He was invisible in the first two games. Let’s hope he watches the tape of that third period, breaks it down, analyzes it, and figures out what to do. If he catches fire, he can take over not just a game, but a series and turn the Lightning’s fortunes around. But he’s going to have to be a far better player than he was in the first two games.
Hopefully Victor Hedman is feeling well enough to return for game four. He was a game time decision for game three, but didn’t even take warm ups. He was not outstanding in game one or two. If he returns, the Lightning need him to be the Norris Trophy winning player that we know he can be. It’d also be helpful if Anton Stralman could return to the line up. Ideally, I would like to see Dan Girardi and Jan Rutta sent to the press box if Hedman and Stralman can return for game four.
Braydon Coburn didn’t deserve to sit out the first two games and I thought he was one of the Lightning’s best defensemen on the ice for game three. I sincerely hope that Jon Cooper doesn’t send him back to the press box. If he’s going to insist on continuing to play Rutta and Girardi, then I could see Sergachev sitting.
There’s also some concern of if Alex Killorn will be healthy for game four. He went for a hit late in the third period and went tumbling to the ice. He limped to the bench and returned for at least one shift after that. He didn’t play in the last 9:12 of the game. If he can’t go, then that would mean Ryan Callahan remaining in the line up.
I could go through a lot of players here and talk about this player and that player need to play better. But the reality is that the whole team needs to play better. They’re on the brink of becoming the biggest playoff chokes in North American sports history. I don’t know about you, but I don’t want to go through the rest of the summer and probably most of next year hearing about it. I want the Lightning to come out and play Lightning hockey for 60 minutes and win game four. Then do it again in game five. And game six. And game seven.
If Bobrovsky stands on his head, and Columbus beats the Lightning, despite the Lightning dominating the game, then ok. That’s the way it goes sometimes. But if the Lightning go out with a whimper, not even being competitive in game four. Or squeaking a game four win and then losing in embarrassing fashion back in Tampa in game five? Well... I just don’t want to experience that. I don’t want to hear the national media and everyone on Twitter talking about it.
So please Lightning. Just get it done. One game at a time. Get game four. And then keep it going. Please, please, please.