EDMONTON — The Tampa Bay Lightning showed up late for work in Game 1. Then, when they did find their legs in a 22-shot third period, they got “Dallas-ed” by the Stars.
It is the combined effect of a team that thinks it's creating offence; that gets its game to that point where they can invoke the greatest of all hockey clichés: “if we just keep creating chances like this, eventually they’ll go in.”
The Vegas Golden Knights spent the final three games of the Western Conference Final convincing themselves that they were doing things the right way. That, as head coach Peter DeBoer liked to say, all that was left was to “stick a few pucks in the back of the net,” an inevitability considering all the possession time and shots the Golden Knights were enjoying.
Well, after the series had ended in five games, DeBoer admitted that the Stars had “owned the net fronts” at both ends of the rink. And his quotes led us to believe that they could have played another entire series with the same shot metrics in effect, and Dallas would have won that series too.
As the Golden Knights forwards grew frustrated, the Stars knew they had ’em right where they wanted ‘em.
“You can see it out there. Guys slumping their shoulders, slamming their sticks, slamming the doors,” said Dallas depth forward Jason Dickinson, when asked to define a frustrated opponent. “From a young age you’re taught to hide your body language. You’re exposing your emotions when you’re acting like that. It’s the first sign (that you’re frustrated).”
It’s only been one game for Tampa. And we see no signs of frustration — yet.
The Bolts mailed in the opening 40 minutes, causing head coach Jon Cooper to wonder whether Stars goalie Anton Khudobin “even needed a shower” after the first two periods of Game 1.
What we’re not hearing — at least yet — from the Lightning is that they’re happy with their game and all they need is a couple of breaks around the net.
“Everybody on our team would say that, in Game 1, nobody is proud of the way we played. And we have a very proud group,” said Tampa forward Blake Coleman. “So, I expect every guy to look in the mirror, bounce back and play better than they did in Game 1. When we have four lines going and all our D rolling, we’re a hard team to contain, for anybody in this league.
“We kinda sat back and felt our way into the series, but I would expect us to take the fight to them moving forward. I’m excited to see the response from the boys.”
The key for Dallas, when you take a look into the possession numbers, lies in the scoring chances they do not allow. They haven’t outshot an opponent in their last seven games, but when you look at the scoring chances, they come out ahead more often than not.
“So, Dallas does a good job. When they get the lead they’ve usually been able to hold it,” began the thoughtful Cooper. “You’ve got to get to the inside on these guys and you’ve got to take (the goalie’s) eyes away. You have to make it disruptive; you have them uncomfortable in their surroundings.
“They defend well, they get in lanes and they make it hard on you. And when you do get your opportunities you have to capitalize on them,” Cooper continued. “One of the things that frustrated (Vegas) was, they had a bunch of guys who were used to scoring, who weren’t. You have to just keep fighting through that.
“For us, we’ve had to fight through that in three series now against some defensive teams. This is no different.”
Having watched Cooper’s Zoom interview throughout these playoffs, one of his crutches — disguised by the wily coach in many forms — is his belief that you have to have a “short memory in the playoffs.” Conventional wisdom suggests, however, that he who does not learn from past mistakes is surely doomed to repeat them.
So, where does that intersect in the life of a hockey coach who doesn’t want to be a downer for his players, but whose job is teach them what will work and what did not?
“The guys who don’t learn from their mistakes will usually find their way out of the lineup. And then if you continually don’t learn from your mistakes you usually find your way out of the league,” Cooper said. “(In Game 1) we didn’t have our legs, and we didn’t have our minds, Sometimes you can get away with not having one of those, but you’re not going to get away with not having both. With that, comes mistakes.”
“Mistakes.” Not bad luck.
“Look in the mirror.” Not, look skyward.
That’s what Vegas never learned, and Tampa will have to, to avoid being “Dallas-ed” once again in Game 2.