TAMPA, FLA. — There were no promises. No guarantees that the series was coming back to Tampa Bay or that the Lightning would even win a game. No one was willing to put his neck on the line.
Instead, with the Lightning down 2-0 to the Washington Capitals in a best-of-seven Eastern Conference final, head coach Jon Cooper tried to portray a sense of calm.
“It happens,” Cooper said of losing the first two games of the series at home. “Nobody plays the perfect game — nobody goes 82-0. Nobody goes 16-0 in the playoffs. It’s just heightened when you’re at this time of year and at this time. Is it discouraging that this has happened to us right now? There’s no question. But come on, boys, let’s regroup and do what we do best and what we’ve done together this year, and we’ll be OK.
“I think the people that have been around this team long enough know the kind of heart that’s in that room. We’ll be all right.”
It’s about all you could really say in a series where the Lightning have been outscored 10-4 in two games. It’s not that Tampa Bay hasn’t played well enough to win. It’s that Washington has been much better in every area.
The challenge for the Lightning will be to generate five-on-five scoring opportunities — three of their four goals have come on the power play — as well as limiting the Capitals’ top line of Alex Ovechkin, Evgeny Kuznetsov and Tom Wilson, who have combined for four goals so far.
How did they plan on doing that? Cooper wouldn’t share, although he did say it wasn’t a fluke that Tampa Bay had got this far.
“I’m just confident in our group,” he said. “They’ve got 113 points for a reason. There’s a really good group of guys there. They’ve got a ton of experience, and when their backs have been against the wall, they’ve shown a propensity to fight back. This is a tough one. We lost two at home and it’s definitely not an ideal situation. But we’re not done. It’s not over.
“Just the mood in the room after the game, it wasn’t depression, it was more kind of like an anger of like, ‘we want to get back. Like, let’s get Game 3 going here.’ So that was good to see.”
As for the Capitals, head coach Barry Trotz said the message going home was simple: “Let’s get the next game.”
“You’re going to see their absolute best effort tomorrow night,” Trotz said of the Lightning, “so we’ve got to come with our best effort.”
Series might be far from over
If there is a concern that the Capitals might think the series is over after stealing the first two games on the road, they only have to go back to their first-round win against Columbus for a reminder of how quickly things can change.
Like Tampa Bay, Washington had appeared down and out after losing the first two games at home. But thanks to a 3-2 overtime win on the road, the Capitals came back and won four straight.
“We won Game 3 in overtime in Columbus,” Trotz said. “We lose that game, we’re down three. It can change in a heartbeat. We’ve seen it ourselves and we’ve lived it. To me, that was the point where once we won that game, our game really settled down and we’ve been good ever since.”
Vasilevskiy still has the net
Andrei Vasilevskiy, who was pulled after allowing four goals in Game 1, gave up another six goals in Game 2. That was as many combined goals as he allowed in the entire first round against New Jersey.
But while the Lightning goaltender has not been his best in the Eastern Conference final, there is no talk of sitting him down for Game 3.
“Vasi is our guy,” Cooper said. “He’s been the rock of this team all year.”
“He’s a Vezina finalist for a reason,” Lightning defenceman Dan Girardi said. “We’re not doing the best job in front of him as we have been the last two series … they’re getting a lot of Grade A looks and a lot of odd-man rushes. He can’t save them all. We need to be there for him for sure.”
Young Capitals don’t know disappointment
If this looks like a different Washington team from years past, there’s a reason for that. With five rookies in the lineup, young players such as Jakub Vrana are not part of the Capitals’ history of disappointment in the playoffs.
If anything, they might think this is the norm.
“I think it was (T.J.) Oshie who was saying some of these young guys think this is how it’s every year,” Trotz said, laughing. “That’s what you want to get to as an organization, but the reality is that probably doesn’t happen. This league is way too strong. There’s too much parity. So when you get that opportunity, you want to make the most of it.”
Kempny fined, avoids suspension
Washington defenceman Michal Kempny received a maximum fine of $2,419.35 on Monday for his cross-check to the face of Tampa Bay’s Cedric Paquette in Game 2. Kempny had been penalized on the play, which occurred at 6:55 of the third period.
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