What the Lightning need to do to get back in the Stanley Cup Final

DENVER — Steven Stamkos answered query after query, darkish circles underneath his eyes above an unkempt playoff beard. He stared straight forward. He actually wasn’t going to look behind him at the smoldering mess that was Game 2 of the Stanley Cup Final.

“People are gonna be watching this recreation and doubtless assume the sequence is over. It’s a loss in the playoffs. We’ve bought to man up as a staff and as an individual,” the Lightning captain stated. “Let’s get back residence in entrance of our followers, and let’s have a look at what we’re manufactured from.”

The Colorado Avalanche eviscerated the Lightning in Game 2, 7-0, to take a 2-0 sequence lead. The recreation was over in the first interval. By the third interval, the solely uncertainty was when the Avalanche followers would have their Blink-182 singalong.

“Does it suck dropping a recreation like that? For certain. We’re not used to it. It would not actually occur to us,” coach Jon Cooper stated.

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The back-to-back Stanley Cup champions are not often overwhelmed like that, however they don’t seem to be unbeatable. The rallying cry for the Lightning forward of Game 3 on Monday evening is that they’ve finished this earlier than: Down 2-0 to the New York Rangers in the Eastern Conference finals, they gained 4 straight video games.

But the Rangers aren’t the Avalanche. Game 2 at Madison Square Garden provided sufficient proof of idea to give Tampa Bay confidence it may determine its opponents out. Game 2 in Denver provided nothing shut to that.

“We’re in the identical scenario as we have been in opposition to the Rangers going residence 0-2. And we discovered a means to win Game 3 at the finish of the recreation there,” winger Corey Perry stated. “It rejuvenated us. It bought us going once more.”

The Avalanche look quicker and stronger, and performed “as shut to good of a recreation as you may get out of your gamers,” as Colorado coach Jared Bednar put it. The Lightning do not lack confidence, however have lacked in execution, pushback and outcomes.

If they are going to rally, that is the means. Here are 5 issues which have to go proper for the Bolts to win a 3rd straight Stanley Cup, now that the Avalanche management this sequence.

No extra horrible begins

When a balloon will get punctured, it generally does that factor the place it is chaotically propelled round the room by the leaking air till it is solely deflated. That was the begin of Game 2 for the Tampa Bay Lightning.

The greatest 30 seconds of the recreation for the Lightning — maybe their solely good 30 seconds — got here at the begin, as their checking line bought the puck deep into the Colorado zone and began getting to their forecheck. Things appeared promising!

Then defenseman Erik Cernak failed to preserve the puck in the zone, the Avalanche prompted a few turnovers back in the Lightning’s personal zone and defenseman Ryan McDonagh did what you completely, positively couldn’t do to begin Game 2 for those who have been the Lightning: He took a hooking penalty and handed the second-best energy play in the playoffs a chance to take the lead, which it did.

“It was an undisciplined penalty by me. To give a staff an influence play in the first minute isn’t a very good recipe,” McDonagh stated. “Any time you do that, you are flirting with catastrophe and hazard. It was a nasty time to have a nasty begin.”

This was very true as a result of it adopted one other unhealthy begin in Game 1, when the Avalanche took a 2-0 lead in the first 9:23.

“We’ve bought to go on the market and execute loads higher proper from the begin of the recreation and check out to carry that via the present,” McDonagh stated earlier than Game 2.

Instead, the Avalanche went up 3-0 simply 13:52 into Game 2, they usually have been the ones to carry it via.

“Did we deal with that in addition to we may have? Probably not. Obviously, you guys watch the recreation. It was all downhill after that,” Cooper stated.

The Avalanche have been tied for second in objectives (50) and tied for fifth in objectives allowed at residence throughout the common season, so the quick begins in these first two Stanley Cup Final video games aren’t that a lot of a shock. The Lightning are a a lot better defensive staff in the first interval at residence (seventh in the league this common season) than on the highway (twentieth).

The begin is essential. The Lightning need one thing to construct on. They’re 6-1 in the playoffs after they lead after the first interval and 1-5 after they path. They’re 9-2 after they rating first. The confidence they’re looking for may be discovered with a robust opening 20 minutes; or, contemplating how this sequence has gone, a reliable 10 minutes.

Possess the puck

Tampa Bay’s 16 pictures on purpose have been the fewest the Lightning had in any recreation this season and their lowest whole in the playoffs since registering 15 pictures on purpose in opposition to the Carolina Hurricanes in Game 2 of their 2021 second-round sequence.

“We have to determine a means to get momentum, get pictures on internet. We cannot rating if we’re not getting any pictures,” ahead Nick Paul stated.

And you are not getting any pictures if you do not have the puck.

The Lightning failed to get 44% of the even-strength shot makes an attempt in seven of their 19 postseason video games. That contains each of the video games in Denver. It ought to come as no shock that Game 2 was the nadir of their season as a possession staff: They generated 29.3% of the shot makes an attempt, the lowest proportion for them in any common season or postseason recreation.

The Lightning aren’t precisely a possession machine. They have been twelfth in proportion of shot makes an attempt in the common season and are underneath 50% in the playoffs. True, they owned the puck at 5-on-5 in opposition to the Rangers. But they gained 4 straight in opposition to the Florida Panthers with out having the shot-attempt benefit in any of these video games.

They haven’t got that luxurious in opposition to the Avalanche, and never simply because Colorado is the greatest goal-scoring playoff staff the NHL has seen since 1985. Controlling the puck means controlling the tempo, and the velocity of the Avalanche has been the greatest difference-maker in the sequence.

“It’s actually the quickest staff that we performed, so we bought to discover a means to gradual them down there is no query,” Stamkos stated. “Part of our execution is placing pucks in areas the place you may neutralize their velocity and never flip the puck over. Not giving them freebies, which I assumed we did [in Game 2]. So there is a recreation plan in order to attempt to neutralize their velocity.”

But controlling the puck additionally means getting offensive possibilities. In the shot try warmth map for Game 2, the Avalanche appeared like the floor of the solar, whereas the Lightning dripped a few of a melting lime popsicle in the offensive zone.

Darcy Kuemper made 16 saves in Game 2 for the shutout. None was memorable. In Game 1, the Lightning rallied to pressure additional time and made Kuemper seem like the potential legal responsibility many felt he was earlier than the sequence: minus-1.09 objectives saved above anticipated, and a purpose surrendered to Mikhail Sergachev from the blue line.

Ask the Lightning, they usually’ll inform you the puck possession drawback begins on a micro degree.

“Every particular person simply has to look themselves in the mirror and win each single battle subsequent recreation. We have to swallow this one. We have to put it behind us. We have to determine some issues out as a gaggle and win our battles,” Paul stated. “As quickly as we begin turning the puck over and giving them possibilities, that is when the recreation sort of swayed.”

Win the battles. Win the puck. Maybe win a recreation in this sequence?

‘It’s not you, it is me’

The psychology of a champion is such that it believes that it will possibly prevail in any scenario when competing to the better of its talents. But all champions consider that respect have to be paid to their opponents.

If you listened to the Lightning after the first two video games of this sequence, they paid a bit an excessive amount of respect to the Avalanche and maybe not sufficient to themselves.

It’s the hockey model of “it isn’t you, it is me.”

“You in all probability focus possibly a bit an excessive amount of on the opponent, and possibly you have bought to circle back and focus a bit bit extra on your self. Why are you in this example and what put you in this example,” Cooper stated. “That’s one thing we’ve to do. We actually cannot management what they’re doing in any respect. We have to management what we’re going to do and we simply have not finished that.”

It’s a time-tested mindset for the Lightning. When they climbed out of that gap in opposition to the Rangers, for instance, they did so by adjusting their very own lineup and specializing in the turnovers they have been present wrapping to their opponents. They took higher care of the puck. They earned their possibilities.

The Lightning did not seem like themselves for 2 video games in opposition to the Rangers, after which they rolled to the Stanley Cup Final by successful 4 straight. They actually have not been themselves in opposition to the Avalanche to date.

“There have been so many issues that have been very uncharacteristic of our group,” Stamkos stated. “You gotta give them credit score. You tip your cap to the execution that they’d, however at the identical time there is a nice line between having respect to your opponent and an excessive amount of respect to your opponent. Our group … we need to understand that we bought right here for a motive. Let’s get back to our recreation and perceive that they’ve an unbelievable staff over there with nice ability at each place, however so do we. So let’s discover out what we’re manufactured from once we get back residence.”

So there’s optimism that the resiliency, adaptability and execution that outlined the Lightning’s previous 11 playoff sequence victories can outline this comeback.

“We have a gaggle that we have been ready to circle the wagons and reply. Disappointed in the means [Game 2] went, there is no query. But I’m not questioning our staff. They’re ballers in there. So flip the web page, transfer on to Game 3,” Cooper stated.

Don’t depend on Vasilevskiy — assist him

Opposing goalies had a mixed save proportion of .886 in opposition to Colorado this postseason. Some of that was luck for Colorado — going through David Rittich as an alternative of Juuse Saros, having Jordan Binnington go from a postseason goalie discovering his groove to a water bottle-tossing injured netminder — however a few of that can also be due to the Avalanche being an offensive steamroller.

The latter has been on show in this sequence. Andrei Vasilevskiy is considered one of the most profitable postseason goalies in NHL historical past. He can also be the motive Tampa Bay has been ready to bounce back after Game 2 losses, with a 9-2 file and a .938 save proportion earlier than Saturday evening.



Andrei Vasilveskiy stretches out to make a powerful snag in the second interval in an effort to decelerate the Avalanche assault.

Vasilevskiy’s save proportion in the Stanley Cup Final is .838. He was on the hook for all seven objectives in Game 2, with Cooper deciding to preserve him in the recreation as a result of “I do not assume he would’ve come out” if he tried to pull him.

Is it time to fear about Vasilevskiy? He’s primarily going through the identical variety of high-danger pictures in this sequence (7.43 per 60 minutes, per Natural Stat Trick) as he has in the remainder of the playoffs (7.44). But his high-danger save proportion this sequence (.667) is totally out of sync with the remainder of the playoffs (.891). His anticipated objectives per 60 minutes this sequence (3.00) is barely increased than in the earlier three rounds (2.86). But the greatest change to date is in rebound makes an attempt: Vasilevskiy is averaging 6.94 per 60 minutes in opposition to the Avalanche vs. 3.61 per 60 for the remainder of the playoffs.

Vasilevskiy has bailed the Lightning out of loads of postseason jams throughout their runs. Maybe he can find his fastball back at residence. It not, maybe they will return the favor and bail him out some.

“We left him out to dry. He’s been our spine for years and years and years. We owe it to him to have a greater recreation subsequent recreation,” Stamkos stated. “By no means is that this on him. We’ve bought to be higher as a gaggle.”

Finally, hope the stars lead the means

The Avalanche went energy vs. energy, sending Nathan MacKinnon‘s line in opposition to Kucherov and Stamkos with regularity in Games 1 and a couple of. When MacKinnon’s line did not see the high group for Tampa Bay, it noticed the Lightning’s checking line with Anthony Cirelli.

“I’m comfy with Nate going in opposition to their high guys, I’m comfy with him going in opposition to a checking line,” Bednar stated.

Why would not he be? That line with MacKinnon, Gabriel Landeskog and Valeri Nichushkin had a 9-0 shot-attempt benefit in Game 2 when it was on the ice at 5-on-5, and has a preposterous 28-3 shot-attempt benefit for the sequence.

Meanwhile, Stamkos had one shot on purpose in Game 2 and would not have a degree in the sequence. Kucherov did not have a shot try in Game 2, and neither did Ondrej Palat. Victor Hedman had three pictures however was additionally a minus-3. Brayden Point, nonetheless working his means back after lacking two sequence, has one shot and one help in two video games.

“They’re taking part in at an elite degree proper now. Give them credit score. We are usually not,” Cooper stated. “These are two good groups. They’re simply taking part in at a a lot increased degree than we’re proper now and I believe it was evident watching [Game 2]. So we’ve to elevate our play.”

Tampa Bay’s stars have their names etched on the Stanley Cup twice. They are the ones who’ve hoisted MVP trophies and performed postseason hero. They are additionally the ones whom the Lightning need to lead the means if they are going to get back into this sequence and revive their three-peat hopes.

“We’re not defeated in our locker room. We get an opportunity to go residence in entrance of our followers, which we’ve not finished but, and make it a sequence,” Stamkos stated.

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