Contrary to popular belief, momentum doesn’t carry from game to game. It is an inherently in-game phenomena that swings on a shift by shift basis. Being surprised that the Lightning didn’t carry their Game One momentum ignores that point. Columbus was the better team this evening and Korpisalo was the better goaltender as the Blue Jackets took Game Two by the score 3-1.
What happens when a team gets off to a strong start, but has a mental mishap? A less skilled, but disciplined team can take advantage of it. That is exactly what the Blue Jackets did as they turned a 1-0 deficit into a 2-1 lead after the opening period that saw the Lightning put the first 10 shots on net.
The Lightning started off as well as anyone would have liked to open Game Two, pushing the Jackets back and firing everything toward Joonas Korpisalo. Their pressure ultimately paid off as Nikita Kucherov opened the scoring this afternoon.
Folks, any disrespect that Ondrej Palat has received this year needs to stop. He’s been great for the Lightning this season and this shift embodies what he brings to that top line. It is due to his ability to corral the rebound and fire it on net that leads to Kucherov sneaking this one past Korpisalo. Additionally, this is the style that Tampa Bay needs to keep up if they want to succeed in the postseason.
A tripping penalty on Seth Jones at 10:30 gave the Lightning the perfect opportunity to extend their lead after dominating play. Unfortunately, the Lightning power-play sorely missed the danger of Stamkos on the ice as Columbus utterly ignored Tyler Johnson in the left circle. They focused on Mikhail Sergachev, Brayden Point, and Kucherov to limit Tampa Bay’s effectiveness and it worked. Add in Tampa Bay’s struggles with entering the offensive zone with possession on the power-play and it eventually forced play back into their own end.
Where this happened.
This was such a garbage goal to give up. Especially given the defensive acumen that comes from a player like Yanni Gourde. This goal is due to his slow reaction to Ryan Murray going from the corner to the front of the net. Watch the replay, he literally looks at Murray and waits another half second to react, and by that point it is too late to disrupt Murray’s shot attempt. Additionally, no one pressures Pierre-Luc Dubois below the goal line which is asking for trouble given the caliber of player he is. It is one thing if one of these mental lapses happen individually, but having both happen at the same time is asking to be scored on, which is exactly what happened.
However, you can just shrug that goal off and push through it. Instead, Tampa Bay got sloppy in their play. Faltered mentally, and eventually took a bad penalty. The perpetrator this time was Erik Cernak with a pretty blatant interference call on Oliver Bjorkstrand at 18:19.
Which led to this.
This one, sadly, is on Andrei Vasilevskiy. Sure, one could harp on Mitchell Stephens not scrambling over fast enough, but he isn’t in a bad position. Vasilevskiy is caught too deep in his net and isn’t able to square himself to the shooter. Vasilevskiy plays this close to the post like he is afraid of a wrap around attempt from Dubois, but Ryan McDonagh has him covered from that angle. The shot threat is in front of him and he just fails to recognize that in time.
Ultimately, this period was thrown away by the Lightning thanks to poor mental focus at critical junctures. Columbus continues to be a team that takes what is given to them and Tampa Bay is giving them far too many good opportunities.
Lastly, this narrative that Kucherov is too moody or doesn’t care needs to end. That’s just nonsense.
Kucherov shouldn’t be the one to show some fight and emotion on this team. Someone else on this team needs to step up and show something to get them back into it.
Largely, this period saw Tampa Bay try to push back, but fail at generating consistent pressure on Korpisalo. There were moments for the Lightning, but they were far and few between. Analytically, the Lightning carried the period with a 24-17 lead in shot attempts (58%) and in quality at 74%. Those are both indicators that Tampa Bay’s process is good, however, there have been two major issues in Tampa Bay’s way.
Joonas Korpisalo is the biggest issue with his absolutely stellar play, but Tampa Bay’s inability to focus mentally is the other. The team looked frustrated throughout the period and it showed in their play. They either took too long to read plays in both zones or rushed things too much. This plays right into Columbus’s game plan since they want to frustrate teams with their style of play.
Also, the second line of Anthony Cirelli, Alex Killorn, and Tyler Johnson, while maintaining a CF% of 60% (nine attempts for, six against) struggled with finishing their chances. Specifically, there were two in close chances from Johnson that Killorn and Cirelli both missed on. The third line of Blake Coleman, Yanni Gourde, and Barclay Goodrow were over 90% in the possession department and the quality battle, but also were struggling to finish. Maybe mixing a winger on each line might finagle something for the Lightning.
Regardless, Tampa Bay needed to calm down in the third period and focus on getting traffic in front of Korpisalo. They also need to do that while making it difficult for the Blue Jackets to generate their own offense. So far, they have only done that for the first half of the opening period.
Tampa Bay pushed for the first half the period, but failed to capitalize on any of their chances. Korpisalo pushed rebounds out actively, but there wasn’t a blue jersey around the clean any of them up. Whenever Tampa Bay did get a great opportunity Korpisalo stood tall yet again.
However, once the second half of the period came, all it took was one chance for Columbus to extend their lead. Here’s Alexander Wennberg’s goal at 11:27.
The Lightning did push back on the ice, but, like it has been all game, Korpisalo thwarted any chance thrown at him. Then, a power-play chance came at 12:56 when Ryan Murray was called for holding; Tampa Bay failed to convert on the opportunity. The remaining five minutes saw the Lightning make a final push, specifically with pulling Vasilevskiy with four minutes to go, but it was too little too late.
The start of the first half of the opening period went well, but then allow one defensive mental lapse altered their entire game. That is what doomed the Lightning this evening. Vasilevskiy wasn’t as sharp as he was in game one and deserves blame on the second and third goals. The Lightning pushed back, but until they consistently rattle Korpisalo and make his life difficult they aren’t going to consistently beat him. We’ll see if they learn on Saturday for Game Three where the Jackets will have the last change advantage.