Lightning can’t stop Pittsburgh’s dangerous offense

by Gary Shelton on May 19, 2016 · 0 comments

in general, Tampa Bay Lightning

Vasilevskiy has faced 89 shots in the last two games.

Vasilevskiy has faced 89 shots in the last two games.

Thursday, 5:30 a.m.

Is this how it ends, in a hail of bullets, with the Lightning unable to match the offense of the Pittsburgh Penguins?

Is this how the door closes, with a swarm of bees, with a goaltender desperately trying to swat the odds around from his face?

Is this how the season closes, with the Tampa Bay Lightning, a team that has made you nod vigorously as it has skated through the playoffs, simply not good enough to trade punches with the Penguins?

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The Tampa Bay Lightning certainly made it look that way for hunks of Wednesday night's 4-2 loss to Pittsburgh, which looked very much like a rolling ball of barbed wire. It got bigger with every shift on Wednesday, and by the end, it was everything that the Lightning could do to keep up.

Johnson scored his fifth goal of the post-season.

Johnson scored his fifth goal of the post-season.

Despite having only 10 shots in the first period, the Penguins ended the night with 48 against Andrei Vasilevskiy. He stopped 44 of those, but in a way, it was like dodging bullets at the Alamo. Enough got through to cause damage.

Pittsburgh now has 124 shots in the three games, including back-to-back games in the 40s. Yes, the Lightning needs starting goaltender Ben Bishop in the lineup. But 40 shots, frankly, are too much for Bishop, too.

“Well, the message would have been a lot different if this was a best of three but it's actually a best of seven,” said Lightning coach Jon Cooper. “We have been to three playoffs together, and we have been in every different situation. Up two, down two, up 2-1, down 2-1, so it’s nothing we haven’t seen before.”

The Lightning has a bigger problem than a one-game deficit, however. They haven't played well the entire series. They haven't produced enough offense. They haven't taken the Penguins away from the shooting range. Consider this: Phil Kessel got off eight shots. Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin both had six. Chris Kunitz had five. A goaltender is supposed to help; he isn't supposed to stop an avalanche.

“He was unreal tonight,” Lightning coach Jon Cooper said of Vasilevskiy. “What's obviously upsetting is -- what did we give up, 41 the other night? We were on the road, and they were desperate. But it's extremely disappointing to give up 48 shots in your home building in a playoff game. That's unacceptable. So I just feel bad for the kid that he's keeping us in there and we're not finding a way to bail him out.

Killorn hasn't scored a goal since the series' opening game.

Killorn hasn't scored a goal since the series' opening game.

“The way things have gone these two games, it doesn't matter who's in
net. You know, we could have Bish and Vasi both playing at the same time,
and they might have squeaked a couple in. So we have to be better as a
group in front of him. ”

Frankly, it's had the look of a major-league team against juniors. On the ice, the Lightning seem slower, more methodical.

“If you're going to make a run in the playoffs, you just can't -- you can depend on a few games from some guys, but you've got to start getting scoring from your entire lineup, and they found a way to get some,” Cooper said.

This series, the Bolts haven't been special. They won nine of their first 11 post-season games, but now they've lost two in a row.

“I know we can play with these guys,” said defenseman Anton Stralman. “They're good, but so are we.”

Now, the Lightning plays its most important game to date on Friday. If they win, it's a three-game series. But if they lose, it will be the sound of someone constructing a gallows outside.

"It's pretty much do-or-die time," said forward Tyler Johnson."We don't want to go Pittsburgh down 3-1."

Is this the Lightning's bus stop? Have their injuries finally caught up to them? Is Pittsburgh too deep, too dangerous?

Lose Friday night, and it will smell like trouble.

Vasilevskiy couldn't contain a Pittsburgh onslaught in the third.

Vasilevskiy couldn't contain a Pittsburgh onslaught in the third.

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