Three things that went wrong for the Tampa Bay Lightning
When a team loses a playoff series, it rarely comes down to just one player or just one play. It’s usually a build-up of issues that compound themselves until you’re on the wrong side of the handshake line. In the opening round of the series between the Tampa Bay Lightning and the Toronto Maple Leafs, there were a few factors that came into play and ended up preventing the Lightning from advancing. Let’s take a look at three of them.
The Power Play
At first glance, converting 23.8% of your power plays would be considered a good thing. Of all of the teams in the postseason it was good enough to finish 8th (can we stop a minute and realize how dangerous the Edmonton power play was with a 56.3% rate?) and the Lightning’s five goals were just one behind the Leafs’ six. So good, right? No, not really. That 23.8% success rate was boosted by a 4-for-8 performance in Game One (which really made us look smart for one night).
After that they went just 1-for-13 the rest of the way. In a series where three games were decided by one goal (and all went to overtime) just one or two goals with the extra skater could have been the difference.
As we speculated in the linked article above, the power play was one spot where the Lightning could have taken advantage of the Leafs’ occasional defensive issues. A lack of finishing reared its ugly head in this department as the Bolts did generate a 7.8 xGF/60 over those last five games, which was slightly better than the 7.35 xGF/60 they posted during the regular season.
It was a similar story in close as the Lightning posted a 25.5 HDCF/60 number against their season average of 24.7 HDCF/60. So the chances were there, they just couldn’t finish it off. Sure, there were a couple of posts thrown in, but with the talent they rolled out on a nightly basis, the power play had to connect for more than one goal.
The first unit did combine for four of the goals (with three of them coming in the first game) while the lone goal from the second unit came from Corey Perry at the end of a 5-on-3.
Credit the Leafs for getting in the way of the Lightning’s attack. The Bolts had 39 shot attempts over the last five games and Toronto blocked 13 shots and forced another 8 wide. They made Ilya Samsonov’s life easier by only having to face 17 shots while shorthanded.
For a power play unit that ran hot and cold all year, the first round of the playoffs was a bad time to go into a slump.
The Third Period
If there is one thing we have come to expect from the Lightning over the last five years or so, it’s that if they have the lead going into the third period, they will win the game. Their ability to roll four lines and suffocate the offense out of teams trying to comeback was one of the biggest factors to their success.
Even this year, a year in which they struggled to find any consistency, they were 28-1-2 when leading going into the third period, including a 17-1-2 record at home. So color us surprised when not once, but twice they had third period leads at home in this series and ended up losing both games.
Delving into the numbers, it doesn’t seem as bad as it was while watching live. Sometimes, the eye test doesn’t match what the stats say. While watching the games, Toronto seemingly controlled most of the third periods, yet statistically, the Lightning held their own. Since Games One and Two were blowouts heading into the final period, we left those games out. From Games Four through Six the stats were (all situations):
Shot attempts - 78-75 in favor of Tampa Bay
Scoring Chances - 47-37 in favor of Tampa Bay
High-danger Chances - 17-15 in favor of Toronto
Expected Goals Percentage - 53.90% in favor of Tampa Bay
Goals Scored - 5-3 in favor of Toronto
The only game where Toronto posted a better expected goals number than the Lightning was Game Three, a game where the Lightning held them to just 9 shot attempts and 6 shots on goal. Unfortunately, as the Lightning were defending that one goal lead, they didn’t push the play, generating just 6 shot attempts and 3 that went on goal. Spending too much time in their own zone eventually cost them as the Leafs tied things up with just a minute to go in the game.
One thing that did really stand out was the play of the goaltenders. There has been a lot of discussion about Andrei Vasilevskiy’s play in the series and the struggles both he and the defense had for the majority of the games. In the third period he allowed 4 goals on 36 shots for a save percentage of .889%. Not great (not that he had a lot of help from the players in front of him).
At the other end of the ice Ilya Samsonov stopped 35 of 37 for a .946 SV%. Many of those saves were of the one-and-done variety as the Lightning struggled to get to rebounds or deflections in front of the net. Still, credit where credit is due - he made the stops when the Leafs needed him to and was a huge factor in the series win.
Injuries are a part of the game. They usually happen at the worst possible time and to the most important players. It’s not an excuse to say that injuries were a factor in the Lightning losing this series. It wasn’t the key factor, but it was an important one.
As of the time of writing we don’t know the full extent of what the players were dealing with, chances are that information will come out when Julien BriseBois does his end of the season press conference, but we can guess what a few of them are.
Erik Cernak - concussion.
Would things have been different with Cernak on the ice for Games Two-Six? Maybe, maybe not. We do know that one thing he brings to the table is shot blocking (100 for the regular season, fourth on the team) and the ability to clear out the front of the net, something that caused issues for the Lightning for several games. A lot of the pressure came from the side of the ice he normally patrols with, especially from Morgan Reilly, a left-shot defenseman, who had 8 points (3 goals, 5 assists) in the series.
Tanner Jeannot - high ankle sprain.
Just as he seemed to be getting into the flow of the Lightning’s system, Jeannot went down in the Lightning’s regular season game against the New York Islanders with a gruesome looking injury. He managed to make it back into the line-up for Games Two, Three, and Four, but wasn’t effective. Had Michael Eyssimont not been knocked out of Game One, it’s likely that Jeannot probably wouldn’t have suited up at all. Not having Jeannot at full capacity limited the heavy game that the Lightning like to play with their bottom lines, and was effective against the Leafs.
Brayden Point - rib cage cartilage fracture.
Just typing that injury was painful. Now we can see why Point didn’t seem quite as effective as he was during the regular season. Game Three was his best outing as he generated 7 individual high-danger chances, 7 shots on net, and 7 individual scoring chances while playing 24:52. It was also the game he got plastered against the boards by Morgan Reilly.
While Point returned to that game and played the rest of the series he only produced 6 high-danger chances, 12 scoring chances, and 6 shots on net over the last three games while averaging 19:55 of ice time. He was good, but he wasn’t Brayden Point good. The Leafs did an excellent job of shutting down the Lightning’s top line at 5v5, but not having their best player anywhere near 100% was a big blow for the Bolts.