Bolts stumble in their opening playoff game

by Gary Shelton on April 11, 2019 · 1 comment

in general, Tampa Bay Lightning

Vasilevskiy couldn't keep the Blue Jackets at bay./JEFFREY S. KING

Thursday, 4 a.m.

And so, the grand journey of the Tampa Bay Lightning begins with a misstep.

The Lightning, fresh off of one of the regular seasons for the ages, stumbled with their first stride Thursday night. They lost. With a 3-0 lead, they lost. Playing at home, they lost. Playing the lowest seed in the East half of the playoffs, they lost.

It was an ominous start, one that reminded everyone of just how tough the playoffs are, and just how much trouble the winners of the President's Trophy have had. They fell 4-3, giving up three third-period goals to the Columbus Blue Jackets.

And, as a group, the fans of the Lightning said this:


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Cirelli celebrates the Bolts' second goal./JEFFREY S. KING

According to NHL stats, the Lightning surrendered a three-goal lead and lost in the playoffs for the first time in franchise history. It was the first time the Lightning had lost a three-goal lead since Dec. 10, 2013 against the Washington Capitals when including the regular season. Overall, it was the 13th time in franchise history the Lightning lost after holding a three-goal lead.

"We played with a ton of emotion in the first period and the building was jumping, Lightning coach Jon Cooper said. "We clearly had them on their heels and you build that lead which is what you want to do, and I think our mentality was we want to outscore them tonight instead of build the lead and shut them down.

Kucherov couldn't find the net./JEFFREY S. KING

"We didn't need to make it four because we weren't really giving them anything. When we did give them something, it was just wide open looks and breakaways and the irony of tonight's game is our special teams has been so good this year and in the end the special teams let us down.""

One of the oldest axioms in hockey is that, in a big game, a team's best players have to be its best. But the Blue Jackets kept that from happening.

Nikita Kucherov? He led the league in scoring this year, but he didn't score Thursday night. He missed on his two shots on goal.

Steven Stamkos? He had the highest point total of his career, but he didn't score, either. He missed on all four of his shots.

Gourde celebrates his goal with Sergachev./JEFFREY S. KING

Andrei Vasilevskiy? He lost a 3-1 lead in the final period. The Bolts had been 39-2-2 after going into the third period with a lead.

The Bolts took a 3-0 after the first period on goals from Alex Killorn, Anthony Cirelli and Yanni Gourde.

"We got a good lesson in coming out of the first period and playing the way we wanted to play and then you get away from it," said Stamkos. "Sometimes, you can get away with that in the regular season but playoff hockey, teams aren't going to quit. They aren't going to roll over. We gave them some life with turnovers.

"Special teams battle that was so key for us all season long, we didn't get it done tonight. Got a shorthanded goal to start the game and get us going but we get that four-minute and a chance to bury them and we give them a shorty. We just have to learn from this. It's a tough lesson. Guys should be mad, but it's not going to be easy this time of year. We've been in this position before. We just got to get the next one."

The Lightning sound pretty much like every other team that has lost an opening game of a series.

"It's not the best of one," said Victor Hedman. "It's the best of seven."

"That's why you got to win the next game," Stamkos said. "It's the best of seven. That's why you got the chance to recover next game. Like I said, been in that position many times. The core of this team has been up a couple of games, down a couple of games. We just know the importance of the next game in front of our fans, and we need to make sure to get the job done."

The Bolts led 3-2 in the third period and had a four-minute power play. But instead of adding to their lead, the team gave up a short-handed goal to tie things.

"I wouldn't say we relaxed," Victor Hedman said. "We kind of stepped back a little bit. I think in the second period, we were up 3-0. Kuch had a great look there on the power play to make it four, but they got that one back."

The Lightning tries to even the series Firday night at Amalie Arena. The puck is scheduled to drop at 7 p.m.

Killorn scored the Bolts' first goal./JEFFREY S. KING

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