WASHINGTON — Of the 120 minutes played in this Eastern Conference Final so far, the Tampa Bay Lightning have held the lead for 11 minutes and 28 seconds.
That’s not very good.
But while the best team in the East through the regular season is in a hole, down 2-0 to the Washington Capitals, it’s also looking at a chance to steal one on the road and get right back into this series, which shifts to the U.S. capital for Games 3 and 4.
“We know what we’re up against now,” head coach Jon Cooper says. “Don’t take this as a threat against us moving on. Let’s take this as a challenge.”
The Game 3 challenge begins Tuesday at 8:00 p.m. ET at Capital One Arena. Here are a few pre-game notes and keys for Tampa to get back in this one.
Captain Steven Stamkos emerged from the tiny visitor’s dressing room at Capital One Arena looking a bit like a super-fit gym teacher, in tall white tube socks, sneakers and dry-fit shorts and a t-shirt.
He also didn’t look too concerned that his team wouldn’t be able to turn this series around, having watched game tape and identified a few adjustments they need to make.
“We haven’t done a good enough job of being above their guys and making it easier for them to come through with speed, and that’s including on their breakouts,” the 28-year-old says. “We were so successful against Jersey and Boston because it just seemed like two guys got in and utilized their speed on the forecheck and our third guy was above and created turnovers, created havoc, some pressure on their ‘D’. We definitely watched some film and we’ve seen the good, the bad and the ugly.
“We have to make some adjustments and I think we’re a group that is capable of making those adjustments on the fly.”
Cooper, too, has a better feeling heading into Game 3.
“I just think we’ve identified what we have to do better. There’s been a lot of chatter around the room about how we have to elevate our game, but technically some of the things we have to do better,” the coach says. “It’s not brain surgery. We’ve got to go out there and just play hockey, play the way where we’re making them have to make quick decisions, decisions they don’t want to make. Making them play ‘D’ so when they go and play offence they’re playing on tired legs. We just haven’t been doing that. That’s actually been us. We have to reverse that trend.”
Get that lead…
Scoring first is big, and bigger still when you’re on the road, because you can suck the air out of the opposing team’s building. And though the Lightning have had the lead for just a brief stint, they’ve noticed it’s a different Capitals team they’re facing when they’re up.
“One of the things things for me is you have to make them play catchup, because when they do have the lead they sit back, you have to go through four guys [in the neutral zone],” Cooper says. “They all can skate. They’re all angling. They’re all in lanes and it just makes it tougher. When they don’t have the lead they’re a little bit more loose in the way they play. They don’t sit back as much. They’re not waiting for you to make a mistake because they’re trying to create offence themselves. If you want to have a chance to open things up for yourself, make sure you get the lead.”
Centreman Alex Killorn adds that being down in a game also changes the way the Lightning play. “I think when they went up two goals, we tried to reach and we tried to make plays because we wanted to get back into the end,” he says. “It ended up hurting us even more. We just want to try to get out to a lead tonight so we can play more of a defensive game.”
Enough already with those 2-on-1s
Cutting down odd-man rushes you’re giving up is an obvious goal for any team, and it’s been a glaring problem for the Lightning in this series. If you watched Game 2, you might’ve lost count of how many two-on-one rushes the Capitals had.
“We just can’t give these chances up,” Cooper says. “It’s 2-on-1 after 2-on-1. It’s not Jon Cooper going in with a 2-on-1, it’s [Evgeny] Kuznetsov and [Alex] Ovechkin, so there’s a big difference there. We have to limit those.”
No lack of confidence
The Lightning have been here at this stage three of the last four years, and it doesn’t appear their confidence has wavered, despite the winless start.
“We can’t change the results,” says six-foot-six defenceman Victor Hedman. “We’re down in a hole, but we’ve got all the tools and the guys that can climb out of it. It’s been proven before that teams can come back from 0-2 after losing the first two on home ice.
“We’re confident our group can do it.”