Hear that? That’s the sound of alarm bells going off in Tampa Bay.
Down 2-0 in their first-round series against the Columbus Blue Jackets after Friday’s 5-1 loss, the powerhouse Lightning are looking like mere mortals. It’s a look we’re not used to seeing with this team, whose 62-16-4 record this year matched a league record for most victories in a single season and saw them finish a whopping 21 points ahead of the second-place club.
As we know, though, things can change very quickly in the post-season.
“Things just happen so fast [in the playoffs]. It’s 0-0 and there’s a lot of excitement going into Game 1 and then all of a sudden you’re down 2-0 at home and alarms are going off,” head coach Jon Cooper told reporters after Friday’s Game 2. “Have we faced a ton of adversity this year? We haven’t. I’ve been in the league six years and it probably hasn’t gone any easier than it has this year.”
After the first 20 minutes of Wednesday’s Game 1, it looked like the Lightning would make easy work of the Blue Jackets. But it’s been the exact opposite ever since, with Columbus proving on Friday that their rallying effort two nights prior was no fluke. Since the Lightning’s dominant first period, the Blue Jackets have outshot Tampa Bay 48-41, outscored them 9-1 (including seven unanswered goals to finish Game 1 and start Game 2), and have clearly gotten under their opponent’s skin.
The loss marked the first time the Lightning have lost back-to-back games since Feb. 7. For a team that faced little to no adversity through 82 regular season games, they’ve certainly found some now.
“So now we’ve got some adversity, and teams face this all the time. You face it in little pieces. This is a five-alarm fire,” Cooper said.
“Sometimes you have to go through stuff like this. We’ll see how we respond,” he continued. “The one thing I do know about being with this group is, they find a way. They find a way. I’m sitting here and we’re going to be in Columbus 48 hours from now and there’s no other bench in the league I want to be behind but ours. That’s how much faith I have in this group.”
While the outcomes of these first two games are indeed alarming for the Lightning and their fans, this one is still far from over. In fact, as Blue Jackets fans will (painfully) recall, it was just last year that Columbus was up 2-0 in their first-round series against the Washington Capitals. And, well, we all know how that one turned out.
And if you’ve blocked it from memory, Victor Hedman will be happy to remind you.
As entertaining and full of surprises as this series has been, it’s about to get even better as the stakes get higher. On that note, here are four of the biggest takeaways from Games 1 and 2.
Playoff Bobrovsky is a good thing
He’s great in the regular season, but Bobrovsky hasn’t exactly built a strong post-season reputation during his time in Columbus and was one of the biggest question marks on the team heading into the playoffs. After a nightmare start in Game 1, head coach John Tortorella’s decision to keep him in the crease has paid off big time in helping the netminder re-write that negative narrative. Since that porous first period Wednesday night, Bobrovsky went four periods with a clean sheet and has let in just a single marker on 41 shots. In his 18 playoff games with Columbus before Friday’s matchup, the 30-year-old had never let in fewer than three goals, making Friday’s 5-1 victory his best Blue Jackets performance yet. Is this is the new “Playoff Bobrovsky”?
Tampa Bay’s stars aren’t shining
Not to take anything away from the Blue Jackets’ excellent play, but the Lightning haven’t been looking like their usual selves. Their pace is still strong, winning lots of battles — but not the battles that really count.
Their biggest goal-scorers, Nikita Kucherov and Steven Stamkos, have yet to register a single point. Their top rearguard, Victor Hedman, hasn’t looked like himself. Goaltender Andrei Vasilevskiy‘s stat line (4.58 goals against average, .830 save percentage) is a far cry from his Vezina-worthy regular season numbers.
And, to make matters worse…
Kucherov could be in hot water
The biggest numbers beside Kucherov’s name right now are his penalty minutes. The forward was issued a a five-minute major and a 10-minute game misconduct for boarding Columbus’s Markus Nutivaara during Game 2, and will have a hearing with the Player Safety Department on Saturday and risks suspension.
Duchene makes history
The Columbus Blue Jackets bulked up at the NHL Trade Deadline, but it took a little while for some of those new additions to make their mark. Matt Duchene certainly made his presence known Friday night when he scored his first ever playoff goal.
Just let that sink in for a minute.
The rental forward, one of three pickups from the Ottawa Senators, was the best playmaker on the ice in Tampa Bay in Game 2 and even wrote his name into the Blue Jackets’ history books.
Looks like those deadline deals are paying off for Columbus, who just barely squeaked into the playoffs thanks to a crunch-time surge. Momentum can be a powerful thing, and we’re about to find out how far they can take it.
Game 3 is set for Sunday at 7 p.m. ET in Columbus.