So where has the good version of the Bolts gone?

by Gary Shelton on May 14, 2018 · 4 comments

in general

Tyler Johnson tries to stop the Caps' Alex Ovechkin./CARMEN MANDATO

Tyler Johnson tries to stop the Caps' Alex Ovechkin./CARMEN MANDATO

Monday, 4 a.m.

Trouble is one engine out on the team plane and the ground coming up fast.

Trouble is looking skyward and seeing a grand piano hurtling toward your head.

Trouble is standing on the edge of a cliff, and feeling your feet slipping on the loose rocks below.

And trouble is losing your first two games of a playoff series, badly, and then having to go on the road and try to win your way back on enemy ice. Trouble is a wobbly goaltender and a wobbly defense in front of him. Trouble is a team, one that was playing superbly five minutes ago, that has lost its way in the Eastern Conference Final.

Former Bolt Brett Connolly looks down on Kucherov./CARMEN MANDATO

Former Bolt Brett Connolly looks down on Kucherov./CARMEN MANDATO

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Cirelli looks up to see the puck flying./CARMEN MANDATO

Cirelli looks up to see the puck flying./CARMEN MANDATO

The Tampa Bay Lightning, dominant in the first two rounds of the playoffs, are in a vise grip in their series against the Washington Capitals. They lost their second straight game at home Sunday night, this one a 6-2 mauling at the hands of a Washington team that seemed just happy to be here two games ago.

But in two games, Washington has been the better team. By far. Sunday night,

Stamkos celebrates scoring an early goal./CARMEN MANDATO

Stamkos celebrates scoring an early goal./CARMEN MANDATO

they scored the last five goals of the game and cruised. They way they are playing, the Caps look like a team that doesn't want to come back to Tampa for Game Five. And maybe they won't. Two more wins, and the series -- and the season -- is over.

Here's a daunting statistic. Since 1974-75, teams who lead 2-0 in a series have won 39 of the 41 playoffs.

This is not the version of the Lightning we have seen lately. They are not as physical as they were against Boston. They are not as precise. They are not as urgent. They are simply a team out for a midnight skate. Pucks keep going into their net, and they seem indifferent to it.

"They've made plays and we haven't," said Lightning coach Jon Cooper. "If there is one thing I can say in these two games, we’ve played tentative and a little bit slow. We didn’t get 113 points by playing that way. We didn’t win the first two rounds by playing that way. For some  reason, for two games, that’s the way we’ve played."

The Lightning's Miller batltles Niskanen./CARMEN MANDATO

The Lightning's Miller battles Niskanen./CARMEN MANDATO

The Bolts actually started the game with more energy than in Game Two, and it led 2-1 in the second on goals by Brayden Point and Steven Stamkos. But the Caps roared back, tying the game, then scoring twice in the final 62 seconds of the second period.

But Cooper thought it was the second goal, after a blown breakaway by Tampa Bay, that was the big difference.

"The game changed when we had a 4-on-1," Cooper said. "We had an odd man rush, and we didn’t do  anything with it. It ended up in the back of our net. That’s when the game swung. If you do something with  that rush, you go up 3-1. That’s where the game changed."

It was one of the points where it changed. But again, the Caps scored their go-ahead goal and another to boot at the end of the second.

Gourde is tripped on the play./CARMEN MANDATO

Gourde is tripped on the play./CARMEN MANDATO

"(A few) seconds left.," Stamkos said. "You’d think we’d learn. That’s a killer going down 4-2 instead of it being 3-2.

"We have not played to our potential in this series. That’s a good hockey team over there. We got way better in this room. It’s disappointing. we can’t be sitting feeling sorry for ourselves now. We’ve got to find a way to go into their rink and win a hockey game."

Goaltender Andrei Vasilevskiy had another tough night, giving up six goals on 37 shots. In five periods of this series, Vasilevskiy has given up 10 goals.

"No, no," Cooper said when asked about replacing his goalie. "He’s our guy. It’s

Pacquette battles for position./CARMEN MANDATO

Paquette battles for position./CARMEN MANDATO

the chances we’re giving up. It’s the five man unit in front of him. You’ve got to feel for him. He’s not been an issue."

Other things have been. The Bolts bear little resemblance to the team that blew through New Jersey and Washington. Perhaps the Caps are simply better. Perhaps they feel the pressure is off.

“Give them credit," Cooper said. "It doesn’t seem we’re getting that second and third chance we’d like. We’re passing when we should shoot,  shooting when we should pass. We’re turning the puck over too much which is something we didn’t do in the first two rounds. When you do that, it’s hard to generate anything."

The Bolts have come from 0-2 down to win only once in their history. That was against Washington in 2002-03 to win their first-ever playoff series after going 0-2 at home.

Vasilevskiy lets a goal past in the second period./CARMEN MANDATO

Vasilevskiy lets a goal past in the second period./CARMEN MANDATO

“It’s only natural to get a little bit frustrated," said Ryan McDonaugh. "We’re all frustrated right now, but we can’t sulk and hang our heads. I mean it’s a turning point in the game for sure, but at the same time in the grand scheme of things we’re trying to play more of a complete game. You’ve got to give them a lot of credit. They’re playing really well. They’re taking away a lot of our options, and they’re taking away a lot of speed with their physicality and their defensive play.”


The Bolts have to start. On the road. With a slumping game. With the end in sight. The odds are overwhelming against Tampa Bay.

If they're going to make it a series, they must win Tuesday night.

Or else.

Alex Killorn mixes it up with Tom Wilson./CARMEN MANDATO

Alex Killorn mixes it up with Tom Wilson./CARMEN MANDATO








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{ 4 comments… read them below or add one }

Bill Myers May 14, 2018 at 9:20 am

I am sure that we are all asking the same questions. What the heck happened to the team that kicked the Bruins butt? Have the Bolts forgotten how to play desperate hockey? And do they really want to win the Cup? They have put themselves into a situation that will take a “Miracle on Ice” scenario to advance to the finals!


Gary Shelton May 14, 2018 at 9:45 am

My personal guess is that the Bruins series meant so much that anything else is a letdown. Part of it is Washington, too, which is very good. But this team seems to have lost its urgency.


Larry Beller May 14, 2018 at 6:30 am

It’s got to be said that the Lightning just are not built for the playoffs. They raised their physical game against Boston but that’s not how they normally play. It’s not natural for them. The Capitals are knocking them around so much that it’s throwing them off their game because they are looking for where the next big hit is coming from (legal or not). Too many small forwards are taking a beating while our bigger players are mostly invisible.

The Capitals are big, fast, mean and nasty. Where Boston was all that but slow. Also the Lighting are getting out coached. The defensive scheme of the Capitals is confusing the Lightning and they have no answer.

It’s been a great season but Yzerman still has more building to do before the Lightning will hoist the Cup.


Gary Shelton May 14, 2018 at 9:47 am

I wish I could disagree. But Washington has been the better team by a lot so far. And the Lightning hasn’t been as sharp. They could work up some anger against Boston, but it hasn’t been there this series.


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