It’s only one game, and the first game of the series. But the Tampa Bay Lightning were given a golden opportunity to steal a game on the road and go up 1-0. It wasn’t to be, though. The Lightning were completely outmatched all game by the speed and attack of the Colorado Avalanche. The normal “Rest vs. Rust” debate came up with the Avs having so long off before the game, but they looked 100% Rested and 0% Rusted.
The first period started off with a couple of soft goals by Andrei Vasilevskiy. They’re the kind of shots you would really love to see him block. One shot leaked through for the tap-in behind him, though it looked like it would make it over the line anyways. The other was a five-hole shot after a sloppy clear by the defense, the kind of goal he doesn’t give up very often.
The Lightning did show some pushback after those two goals and got a bit of a lucky bounce from Nick Paul to get back to within one. It felt like it was for naught though as the Avalance got a power play, and another five-on-three power play just 30 seconds into it, which they scored on.
The Lightning finished the first period actually pretty close in terms of shot attempts at 5v5, according to NaturalStatTrick.com, 16-15 in the Avs favor. Unfortunately, the Lightning could not get the puck past sticks and bodies with any consistency, having 7 of 15 shot attempts blocked. On the other side, the Lightning only managed to block one of the 16 shot attempts by the Avs at 5v5. That, combined with the Lightning’s inability to generate any shot quality, led to them coming out of the first period with only 27.63% of the xGF share.
It didn’t really get any better from there. The Lightning did manage to have a couple of spectacular plays on back-to-back shifts in the middle of the second period with Nikita Kucherov finding Ondrej Palat on the back side for a tap in goal and Mikhail Sergachev once again threading the needle through a crowd of bodies to go post-post-net and tie the game up at 3-3.
Once again in the second, the Lightning had half of their 5v5 shot attempts blocked (9 of 18) and finished with 34.47% of the xGF share. The third period was a lot more of the same with 6 of their 14 shot attempts being blocked and gaining a 25.23% xGF share. Suffice it to say, this isn’t good enough to win. This is absolutely horrible play at 5v5. And I haven’t even gotten to the power play yet.
The power play... well, it’s nice to have Brayden Point back. The first power play of the night looked really good. Kucherov nearly connected on a pass to the back post with Anthony Cirelli, but the puck bounced over Cirelli’s stick. The zone entries looked good, and much more dynamic with Point there to help out.
The other two power plays in the game were bad. The Lightning struggled with their zone entries. The Lightning struggled to get set-up. The Lightning struggled to get the puck at the net. In their one power play in the third period, they only got one shot on goal and that came off a Kucherov one-timer shortly after the faceoff had been won.
The two soft goals by Vasilevskiy in the first period were killers. After the five-on-three goal, Vasilevskiy was a brick wall until the overtime period, coming up with some spectacular saves in the second and third period. The overtime goal unfortunately was another bad turnover and a blocked shot coming right back to the Avs player, which allowed the pass across and gave Vasilevskiy no chance on the shot.
Long story short, the Lightning nearly stole a game last night. Despite getting absolutely dominated in puck possession, they saw that Darcy Kuemper is a much different goaltender from Igor Shesterkin, who could be frustrating at times in the last round with the saves he came up with. The Lightning don’t have to completely dominate at 5v5 to win, they just need to cash in on their chances when they have them, and they can certainly do that.
Now with a couple days off before game two on Saturday, the Lightning will have a chance to study the tape and make adjustments. That is one of the things that Jon Cooper and his coaching staff has been very good at the past couple postseasons, adjusting their game to the specific opponent.
This was a bit of a feeling out game for the Lightning. They haven’t seen the Avalanche in person in months and in this game they needed to get a gauge again for how fast they actually are. Now with that feel and with the adjustments the Lightning will surely make for the next game, we’ll see if they can find enough of an answer to push back, take game two, and come back home 1-1. The Lightning will have to win at least one on the road if they want to win this series, and it’d be so much better to do it before ever coming home than having to wait for game five or game seven to get that win.
These Avalanche are also not a team I would be comfortable about coming home 0-2 against either. They have the skill, they have the speed, they have the drive to win. They could just as easily take a game in Amalie Arena to put the Lightning into a bigger hole they’d need to climb out of.
Come back Saturday, and win it boys.
Let’s Go Bolts!