We will hear the excuses: Tampa Bay was tired, they had bad puck luck, they dominated the third period, losing the first game isn’t a big deal, etc.
“We’re not using that as a crutch,” said Kevin Shattenkirk on fatigue playing a part of the loss. “It is what it is.”
Embrace the suck, as Lightning General Manager Julien BriseBois mentioned before the Return-to-Play officially began.
All of the aforementioned excuses bely the simple fact that the Tampa Bay Lightning were not good enough Saturday night.
They allowed the first goal for the sixth consecutive game, and ninth overall since the first round against Columbus. In games they’ve allowed the first goal, the Lightning are 4-5. Whereas, if they score first, Tampa Bay is 7-1. Scoring first would greatly behoove them moving forward.
“They were on top of us right from the get go,” said Yanni Gourde during the postgame presser.
In the previous three rounds, the Lightning already had a solidified idea how Columbus, Boston, and New York play given how often Eastern teams face each other. With only two games against the Stars this season, the last coming in January, it’s easy to see the how unfamiliarity affected Tampa Bay.
However, this Stars team isn’t close to the offensively inept squad that struggled at times during the regular season. They’re a team brimming with confidence and willing to impose themselves on opponents.
Dallas’s first period established the tone immediately as their aggressive forecheck created issues all over the ice for Tampa Bay. The Stars refused to give the Lightning an inch of space to make even the simplest of passes, and it created problems as Tampa Bay tried to transition out of their zone.
Through the first 20 minutes and in all situations, Dallas out attempted (18-8), out shot (5-4), out chanced (10-4), generated more high danger opportunities (5-2), and generated more quality overall (xGF of 56 percent). The only thing the Lightning managed to do well in the opening frame was block shots (nine).
Add in the fortunate double bounce goal from Yanni Gourde after a point shot from Blake Coleman, and the Lightning were lucky to be tied after the first period.
The second period saw the Lightning push back, but only after Dallas had taken the lead.
The Joel Kiviranta goal that came after the Lightning started dictating the pace looked to suck all momentum from Tampa Bay entering the third.
Yet, Tampa Bay dominated the third period. However, it was clear that Dallas was content to sit on their two goal lead and dare the Lightning to break their defensive system.
The Lightning attempted 45 shots in the third period, in all situations, (29 being unblocked) while only giving up three. At first glance, that sounds fantastic. Yet, if we take a look at where the Lightning were shooting from, it’s clear they struggled to get into dangerous areas and force Anton Khudobin to consistently make difficult saves.
The best scoring chance that Tampa Bay had in the third period came off a Tyler Johnson backhand feed to Alex Killorn that saw Khudobin stop it with his toe.
Dallas focused on removing the Lightning from the slot and keeping the vast majority of attempts toward the perimeter.
“We had to do a lot more than just what we did in the third period,” said Jon Cooper postgame. “I don’t even know if you can take a shower after the first two periods.”
A better start is paramount Monday night from Tampa Bay, and maybe even some minor lineup tweaks should be on the docket. Luke Schenn being the seventh defensemen is still a risky proposition. Especially with a defender like Braydon Coburn sitting on the sidelines. Zach Bogosian had his worst game as a member of the Lightning, but has been a pleasant surprise this postseason (he isn’t likely to be sat).
The biggest question entering Game 2 isn’t whether or not the Lightning will play better (they most assuredly will), rather, it’s the status of captain Steven Stamkos. The possible addition of Stamkos is an immediate boon to Tampa Bay’s biggest weakness this postseason: the power-play. The Lightning have admirably changed their approach on the man advantage without Stamkos, but it’s been far too inconsistent even with those adjustments. Adding the best shooter of his generation will force attention away from Nikita Kucherov and open up more looks for Point in the slot.
However, until he’s given the green light by the medical staff we’re left waiting and wondering.
“I know we have better in us,” said Cooper. “You have to have a short memory this time of year. We’ll just regroup for Game 2.”
The Lightning have yet to lose consecutive games in these playoffs. Saturday night was only their sixth loss all postseason (including the round robin). We’ll see if they can avoid it again Monday night.