The Tampa Bay Lightning did not look like a two-time Stanley Cup champion on Monday night. Auston Matthews scored two goals and had an assist for the Toronto Maple Leafs as they soundly beat the Lightning by a score of 5-0 at Scotiabank Arena.
Related: 3 Reasons the Lightning Will 3-Peat as Cup Champions
While the Lightning have lost playoff openers before, they have not been beaten this badly in the past two postseasons. However, it was the manner in which they lost that have many concerned.
Lightning Had a Very Shaky First Period
It was somewhat expected that the home team would come out with a lot of energy and enthusiasm in the first game of the series. While it was not surprising that Toronto came out in the first period playing spirited hockey, it was really surprising that such a playoff-savvy team like Tampa Bay would play like it was their first playoff game ever. The biggest indication of the struggle was how poorly the power play was executed, managing only one shot after the Maple Leafs’ Kyle Clifford received a 5-minute major and game misconduct for boarding Ross Colton.
The Lightning could manage only one shot on goal for the entirety of the five-minute penalty. It was not that they only got one shot off, it was their execution, or lack thereof, that made it disappointing. While a lot of credit should be given to Maple Leafs as they actually managed a couple of good scoring chances, much more was expected from the Lightning power play. During a four-game winning stretch recently, the Lightning were 9-for-16 (56.3 percent) with the man-advantage.
Very Little Positives from the Lightning Special Teams
It was tough to choose which of the performances of Tampa Bay’s special teams was the most disappointing. It could have been when Mikhail Sergachev and Jan Rutta took penalties a minute apart, leading to an Auston Matthews goal on the two-man advantage. Or, it could have come when Victor Hedman mishandled a pass on a Lightning power play that led to a David Kampf shorthanded goal.
For the night, the Lightning were 0 for 5 on the power play while not creating a lot of scoring chances. The performance while a man-up was a stark contrast to how they performed in the last month of the season. They did finish the night by holding Toronto to the lone goal on their eight power-play chances. However, eight chances in the post-season are far too many opportunities for an opponent with such a potent offense.
Has Fatigue Caught Up to the Lightning?
One of the big questions coming into these playoffs was whether Tampa Bay’s last two deep runs would take their toll on the team. They had many ups-and-downs throughout the season, but of late started to look like a team that had regained its stride. The latest example was during their regular-season finale against the Islanders when Steven Stamkos led his team to a furious third-period comeback in a 6-4 victory. The Lightning have played quite a bit of hockey over the last two years. The hope was that they would catch a second wind and take off in the playoffs. Thanks in part to Toronto’s inspired play, that did not happen on Monday night.
Of the many players who have logged a lot of games over the past two seasons, one of the major concerns has been the workload of goaltender Andre Vasilevskiy. The biggest question entering this season was how he would hold up physically, given that no goaltender had played more games than him over the past three seasons. He did play in 77 percent of the Lightning’s games during the regular season, but the staff did try to give him rest and lighten his practice load during the season. On Monday night, it did not look like a lot of the Lightning players had a lot of energy, though.
Tampa Bay Did Not Hold Toronto’s Stars in Check
The telling part of the frustration from the Lightning’s big players came when Stamkos whiffed on a one-timer with Maple Leafs’ goaltender Jack Campbell out of position. Meanwhile, Matthews scored twice and Mitch Marner broke a long playoff scoring drought with a goal and two assists. If the Lightning have any hope of winning this series, they will have to do a better job of shutting down the potent Maple Leaf offense. While offense has taken the spotlight, it has been the staunch Lightning defense that has been the backbone of the last two Stanley Cup victories.
The Lightning have rebounded from losses before, having never lost consecutive games last postseason. With Game 2 on Wednesday night, we will see if they, a team that has seen the highs and lows of playoff hockey, can put together another bounce-back performance like they have done in the past.