Bolts win a game, but it doesn’t feel like enough

by Gary Shelton on May 17, 2016 · 0 comments

in general, Tampa Bay Lightning

Andrei Vasilevskiy stopped 38 shots against Pittsburgh.

Andrei Vasilevskiy stopped 38 shots against Pittsburgh.

Tuesday, 6 a.m.

Repeat it to yourself: Things are okay for the Tampa Bay Lighting. Really, they are.

Keep reminding yourself that the Bolts won one game in Pittsburgh, which has always been the battle plan for hockey teams. Remember that the Lightning came from two goals behind. Chant that the next two games are at home in Tampa.

Whatever you do, however, do not think about what could have been.

The Lightning came from a two-goal deficit.

The Lightning was one shot away from returning from Tampa Bay with both hands around the throats of the Penguins. Yes, Pittsburgh forced

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Drouin scored the tying goal for Bolts./TRAVIS PENDERGRASS

Drouin scored the tying goal for Bolts./TRAVIS PENDERGRASS

the play for much of Monday night, but it is certainly possible to imagine a scenario where, say, Alex Killorn's third-period shot off the crossbar went into the net. If that happened, the Bolts would be ahead 2-0, and all of Pittsburgh has an all-points bulletin out on Sidney Crosby.

In other words, a 1-1 tie may feel good enough, but it doesn't feel like enough. It feels as if the Lightning lost an opportunity. They could have left the Penguins bewildered and talking to themselves.

“For the second game in a row in the third period, we're just not generating enough. We're -- especially tonight, we were a little bit opportunistic. I mean, we had some big time chances, especially last couple shifts in that third period, but we were just too much one and done and not taking advantage of what we're good at. We do it in spurts, but we haven't done it for six periods now against these guys.

“But ultimately, you know, we got one of them. I don't want to sit here and say, oh, well, we did our thing. We got one. We came here to get two, and we had -- albeit, we may not have been the better team tonight, but we were one shot away. So it's unfortunate the way it turned out. But we've got to up our game moving forward here.

Such is playoff hockey. A win leaves you feeling that everything in the world is going right. A loss makes you feel as if the sky is falling. Win, and you look quick and resilient and hungry. Lose, and you are too injured and too slow and not dangerous enough.

So, yeah, you can think about the opportunity that went through the fingers of the Lightning. Or you can wonder how the Bolts will match Pittsburgh's energy. After all, Pittsburgh outshot the Bolts 41-21. Tampa Bay coach Jon Cooper suggested his team needed to be “more energized” after settling for “too many one and dones” in the game.

In other words, perhaps all this conversation should not be about the goaltenders. Vasilevskiy isn't the issue here. It's scoring.

“He was outstanding,” Cooper said. “You never want to lose your number one guy in Bish, but you've got one A-plus right behind him, and he was -- I thought he was outstanding tonight and probably the reason why that game went to overtime in the first place.”

Can you see Pittsburgh winning this series? Maybe, especially if Crosby awakens. The Penguins still have a potent offensive game.

Can you see Tampa Bay pulling it out? Maybe. Pittsburgh took a pretty big swing, and barely connected, on Friday. Anton Stralman returned, and Steven Stamkos doesn't feel as if he will be out much longer.

“I think it took him a couple shifts just -- you know, you've got to get hit. You've got to feel the puck,” Cooper said. “You've got to feel the pace. But other than that, Stralman is Stralman. He's a thinking man's defenseman. He knows where to be. And I just thought he got stronger as he went on.

“I think him scoring that goal too was big for him to feel like he was right back into the game. He's a really important player for us, and for us to move on out of this series, we're going to need him.”

The thing is, scoring is still an uphill battle for the Lightning. Steven Stamkos is still out. Ryan Callahan missed the game with the flu. Tyler Johnson may still be feeling the affects of a devastating hit he took the other night. If Nikita Kucherov or Jonathan Drouin doesn't score, it's hard for the Lightning.

Still, this team has demonstrated throughout the playoffs that is made of rubber. Throw a doubt at it, and it will bounce back. Injuries don't stop them. Bad bounces don't stop them.

Will Pittsburgh?

Stralman returned f for Lightning.

Stralman returned f for Lightning.

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