Ugly. That’s one word to describe Game 3 for the Tampa Bay Lightning. There will be those that complain about the officiating. Don’t get me wrong, the officials were abysmal. Ultimately, however, the age old adage of “the refs do not win or lose a game” still holds true. The Lightning played a terrible game, looking uninspired and not playing with the fire that should come with a team looking to take a commanding three game lead in a best of seven series.
Poor Performance in Game Three But Lessons Learned
Going into Game 3, the Lightning had a chance to put a stranglehold on this series. After all, there are only four teams in the history of the NHL playoffs that have ever come back from 0-3. Going up 3-0 was simply not meant to be. There were the bad calls, the no calls, and the stupid penalties from the team.
Coach Jon Cooper made a good decision to challenge a questionable goal that was allowed to make it 2-0. The play leading up to the second Detroit goal was certainly goaltender interference earlier in the sequence, but Bishop had a chance to recover before the puck slid past him off the skate of Henrik Zetterberg and the goal was allowed. Although the goal was ultimately upheld, the play was one which should have been reviewed and Cooper knew it was important, as it gave the Red Wings the two goal cushion. If the goal had been overturned, it would have kept it a one goal game. Hockey, however is not a game of “what ifs.” The Lightning are still up 2-1 for the series and the team learned some valuable lessons moving forward against the Red Wings.
Bishop Answers the Call (Again) in Loss
First, the Lightning learned that even when they play poorly defensively, Ben Bishop can and will answer the call. It is no secret that Bishop has been the team’s most valuable player from start to finish this season. Ultimately, the Lightning will go as far as Bishop takes them. On Sunday night he made great saves at key moments and kept the Lightning in a game they shouldn’t have been in. Bishop stopped 28 of 30 shots and Red Wings fans (should have) learned that chanting “Bishop” repeatedly will not do anything to rattle his focus. Despite being out shot 30 to 16, and being shorthanded seven times, Bishop let in just two goals and made key saves.
When in Doubt, Shoot the Puck
Second, the Lightning learned that taking 16 shots will not win a playoff game. The Lightning never tested Petr Mrazek and only had three shots in the second period followed by four shots in the third. Although in the 2015 NHL Playoffs, Mrazek backstopped the Red Wings to a seven game series against the Lightning, last night the Lightning never tested Mrazek and the shutout is misleading from a goaltending perspective. Granted, stopping all the shots you face is impressive, but Mrazek faced close to no quality shots and never was forced to make a big save.
Referees Blown Calls a Symptom But Not the Ultimate Problem
Third, the Lightning learned that the referees let a lot of things go if you were wearing a Red Wings jersey. Whether it was the slash against the back of Jason Garrison’s leg to end the first period, or Braydon Coburn being blatantly punched in the head, the officiating was ridiculous at times. That said, the Lightning took some terrible penalties of its own and spent nearly the entire second period killing penalty after penalty. Although the team should have had some calls against the Red Wings that off-set penalties on the Lightning, the second period is when the team’s lack of discipline became a glaring issue.
Penalty Kill Perfect in Loss
Fourth, the Lightning learned that the team’s penalty kill is strong (although it should not be tested like it was in Game 3). The Lightning were a perfect seven for seven in penalty killing last night. Of course, killing off penalties continuously should not become the norm moving forward. During the first period, a crucial 5-3 penalty kill was led by Ryan Callahan, who blocked four shots. He, Brian Boyle, and Jason Garrison executed that penalty kill flawlessly and kept the Lightning in the game at that point. Moving forward in this series, it’s only a matter of time before numerous penalty kill situations eventually come back to bite them.
Abdelkader Refuses Challenge after Cheap Shots on Blunden in Game 2
Fifth, the Lightning (and the Red Wings) learned Justin Abdelkader’s true colors. Standing face-to-face with Brian Boyle (and not face-to-back, like Abdelkader was to Michael Blunden in Game 2 before he punched him repeatedly from behind while Blunden was lying on the ice), Abdelkader was challenged by Boyle to fight but he refused, holding onto Boyle with both his gloves on and his shielded helmet. Is there anything worse than seeing a player holding on to another player and refusing to drop the mitts when challenged? Boyle was ejected from the game and motioned his arms like a clucking chicken towards the Red Wings bench, ensuring the entire Red Wings team (and its fans) knew that Abdelkader was a “chicken.” There will be Red Wings fans that defend Abdelkader’s actions as “just playing it smart at the end of a game,” but Abdelkader knows what message he sent by refusing to tango. I guarantee the last chapter of this whole scenario is yet to come.
Moving Forward: Play with Will to Win, Shoot the Puck
Despite the lessons learned during Game 3 and the lackluster performance of the team as a whole, the Lightning must put this one behind them and move on. I’d expect that in Game 4 you would see the team come out on a mission. In Game 3, the Lightning simply lacked the fire and desire necessary to help put this series away. If the Lightning can take Game 4, the team will take a 3-1 lead back to Tampa where the series can be closed out in front of the home crowd.
However, another poor performance sends it back to square one, with the series tied at two games apiece. A five game series would give Lightning players some much needed rest. While the effort and intensity shown by the team in Game 3 was certainly not good, the playoffs are never a cake walk. Getting back to the formula the team had for the first two games – taking more shots, playing at a fast pace, and being disciplined, will ensure Mrazek looks human and send the Lightning to the second round.