The Tampa Bay Lightning came into Game 2 against the Toronto Maple Leafs with something to prove after being blown 5-0 in Game 1 on Monday. They did just that as they beat the Maple Leafs 5-3 on Wednesday to even their first-round series at one game apiece.
Overall, the Lightning looked quicker and played with more determination as Victor Hedman had a four-point night. Since the 2020 postseason, they have followed all 16 playoff losses with a win in the next game.
The Lightning are Historically Good in Rebound Games
Teams that go on long playoff runs, especially in consecutive years, will at times have a loss similar to Monday. The big issue is how well a team bounces back after that kind of loss. The Lightning historically have excelled in that area, not having lost consecutive games during their last two playoff runs.
“I’m not worried about these guys.” head coach Jon Cooper said in his pre-game press conference. The rebound started well when Hedman scored a power-play goal with just under two seconds left to give the Lightning a first-period lead, and their first goal of the series.
The Lightning are no strangers to losing Game 1 of a series. Over the past two postseasons, they had lost the opening game three times and came back to win each series. In fact, they rebounded from two Game 1 losses to advance to the Stanley Cup Final in 2015. In Game 2, the Lightning performed much better overall than they had on Monday. Skating, passing, and positioning were all far better than what was demonstrated in their previous game. This is something that Cooper certainly wanted to happen coming off his team’s refocused, high-energy practice on Tuesday.
Vasilevskiy Shines in Game 2
The least bothered person after Monday’s loss was goaltender Andrei Vasilevskiy. Teammate Pierre-Edouard Bellemare said. “He wasn’t bothered. He just said to make sure we understand what happened and focus on the next one coming up.” Vasilevsky has demonstrated a great deal of success after losses. Into Game 2, he brought a record of 14-0 following a playoff loss, with a 1.35 goals-against average and five shutouts. He looked extremely sharp on Wednesday night against a Toronto squad that was statistically the second-best offensive team in the NHL during the regular season.
Vasilevskiy had 31 saves on 34 shots. His best effort of the night came when he made an outstanding glove save on Toronto defenseman Timothy Liljegren early in the second. More importantly, he saved all eight Toronto power-play attempts. Even though he allowed three goals, two of them came on open looks due to inopportune Lightning turnovers that created easy scoring chances. He was at his best with the game on the line when Toronto pulled their goaltender during a late third-period power-play, giving them a 6-on-4 advantage which gave them numerous opportunities to score.
Lightning Get Vast Improvement on Special Teams
On Tuesday, the Lightning spent a significant amount of time early in practice working on the power play as well as focusing on playing at a quicker tempo. That strategy paid off as they took advantage of two untimely penalties by Wayne Simmonds to tally two power-play goals. The first of the goals came courtesy of Nikita Kucherov and became very significant as it happened shortly after Toronto had cut the lead to 2-1. Overall, they went 3-for-7 on the power play after going 0-for-5 in Game 1.
The Lightning penalty-killing unit stifled all four of Toronto’s power-plays, none more important than the one they were able to kill off late in the third period when the Leafs had crept back into the game. One very efficient penalty kill had the Lightning hustling for more scoring chances than did the Toronto power-play. The only special team blemish of the night came when they gave up an Alexander Kerfoot shorthanded goal late in the third period.
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The Lightning will now return home for Game 3 of the best-of-seven matchup, hoping to build off the momentum that they captured in Game 2.