I won’t waste anyone’s time with a long rant about how the Tampa Bay Lightning should know better, or that they played well below their talent level, or how the New York Rangers showed how “tough” they are (they showed nothing special on Wednesday night. This was always how this series was going to start, a slap in the face loss after a long rest waiting for the series to start. We should’ve all expected this; we’ve only seen it for what feels like the entirety of Jon Cooper’s tenure as Lightning coach.
I don’t know the actual numbers, but thinking back throughout this core’s run of playoff contention (2014-present), long rest periods between series or games (even in the regular season) have nearly always been letdowns.
I knew entering this game that the Lightning would likely lose. For some reason, under Cooper, the Lightning has never been their sharpest with a prolonged break. As good as it was to have nine days to get healthy, the rust the team displayed against a Rangers team that just finished their series two days ago was prime to be a disappointment—and boy was it ever one.
To be honest, I kind of tuned the game out after they went down 4-2, knowing they would continue to get slapped for not being sharp enough. If they were going through the motions, I might as well mirror that effort, given how poor it became.
From Zach Bogosian’s bizarre decision to overcommit to Mika Zibanejad on a two-on-one, when he should’ve played the passing option, to Andrei Vasilevskiy letting average shots beat him regularly, Tampa Bay was a mess in Game One. There were bright spots, good response goals from Steven Stamkos and Ondrej Palat, and a solid edge in shot quality in the middle frame to show the Rangers won’t run away with things. Still, Tampa Bay’s poor timing, atrocious defensive play, and inability to shake off the rust sunk their chances of taking an early series lead.
However, it’s only one game, and let’s remember the absolute curb-stomping the Toronto Maple Leafs laid on the Lightning in Game One of the first round. How did that series end up? Oh, that’s right, they came back to suffocate an explosive Leafs’ offense and win the series in seven. The series isn’t won in Game One, but Tampa Bay needs to get up to speed quickly before this series gets out of hand—New York surely isn’t going to rest on their laurels.
The good thing is this game happened early in the series and showed a lot of New York’s approach to the game. Something the Lightning can now adjust to and manipulate to their advantage—if the Lightning could slow down Toronto and Florida’s offenses, they could surely slow down New York’s. Still, first, they’re going to need Vasilevskiy to be Vasilevskiy. Not the average sporadic caricature he showcased in Game One.
For now, burn the game tape, refocus for Game Two, avoid the unforced errors, and get back to Lightning hockey—because that’s the only way this team will beat a resilient Rangers team that knows they can lean on their stellar goaltender to keep them in games.