The Tampa Bay Lightning are in a familiar position as they trail the Colorado Avalanche 2-0 in the Stanley Cup Final. It was a position the Lightning were in against the New York Rangers in the Eastern Conference Final. However, the difference in this series, is the Lightning are facing a much different team. The Avalanche are not the Rangers. And right now Colorado is setting the pace and Tampa Bay is having trouble keeping up.
With the series shifting back to Tampa Bay for Games 3 and 4, the Lightning have to make the right adjustments to get back in the series. Or else the two-time defending Stanley Cup Champions will no longer be champions.
Tampa Bay Lightning Chasing the Game
If you have been paying attention to the first two games, Colorado’s speed has been too much for the Lightning to keep up with. All four lines that Colorado rolls just continue to come out you at a relentless pace. This is allowing Colorado to dictate play. Not to mention it is not allowing the Lightning the time and space needed to set up their game.
With two days off between Game 1 and 2, you thought the Lightning would have come out with a stronger start to Game 2. However, it was the complete opposite. The Lightning fell flat on their face as Colorado dominated the play. Despite a promising start, it was all downhill once the Lightning gave up the first power play. The Lightning could not adjust in the game. Nothing they did went right.
Outside of Colorado exploiting the Lightning’s weakness in Game 1 of the cross-seam pass, it was the transition game that got Tampa Bay in Game 2. But that is what happens when time and space are taken away. Colorado is great off the transition especially when they get turnovers and boy have they forced a lot of turnovers.
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Just look at the goals that were given up by the Lightning in the second and third periods and how many came off the rush. There were just so many uncharacteristic mistakes the Lightning made in the first two games of this series. You would have thought their structure would have held up. But that is what good teams do. They break down your structure, exploit weaknesses and take advantage. It is now on the Lightning to adjust their style of game. The question is, can they?
Lightning Must Find Answers Quickly
Through two games of this series, it is apparent they cannot. Again a series does not start until the home team loses, but something has to change. Home ice has been good to the Lightning. They have won seven straight games on home ice. But Colorado is the best road team in the playoffs with a 7-0 record. It does not matter where they play, Colorado is comfortable.
In their last round against the Rangers, despite losing the first two games, the Lightning were able to make the in-game adjustments quickly. Though they lost Game 2, by the end of that game the Lightning had established their game. So you were confident they could come back from an 0-2 deficit. From there the Lightning controlled the series and each game. But the Avalanche are a different animal than the Rangers. Outside of the second period, where the Lightning tied Game 1, there have been no signs of the Lightning taking over gameplay. That has to change come Game 3.
The Lightning are rattled and are facing a team that is hungrier than they are and fresher. It is hard to establish and find answers when you are always on your heels. With a quick turnaround between games, the Lightning need to make those subtle little adjustments quickly or else this series is over Wednesday night.
During this recent run, the old saying has been the only team that can beat the Tampa Bay Lightning are the Lightning themselves. Well, Tampa Bay is finding out that when you do not do the little things right in your game against a superior team, those mistakes end up in the back of your net.
For Tampa Bay, it has to be about getting back to basics. Make the simple play. Stop forcing things when things are not there. It all starts with the breakout and entries into the zone. Unfortunately, the Lightning needs to find a new way to enter Colorado’s zone.
With Cale Makar, Devon Toews, and Bowan Byram being smooth-skating defencemen, it will be hard for the Lightning to finish their hits. Colorado is so quick they are beating the Lightning to every puck battle. Hence why the Avalanche can move up the ice so quickly. This is forcing Tampa Bay to always play on the heels and from behind. The Lightning like to play with the lead so they can lock down the neutral zone. Right now, their game has been nowhere to be found.
Sometimes the simplest hockey is the best hockey. If the Lightning can just slow the game down just a bit instead of rushing all the time, this will allow them to get into the game. Easy said than done against this Avalanche team. And once they have the offensive zone throw everything on Darcy Kuemper. Find new ways to score and open up lanes. Right now Colorado is giving them nothing.
As the great Al Arbour said, “Just go out and win your shift.” Does not mean you have to score every time. But manage the game. Don’t make the simple mistake that ends up in the back of your net. Yes, the Lightning have been here before, but this time it feels different.
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