If you look at the Stanley Cup Playoffs as a long exam, then the Tampa Bay Lightning failed part one in spectacular fashion. After taking a three-goal lead in the first period of Game 1, they fell back into their bad habit of only playing one or two periods of hockey instead of a full 60-minute game. This not only cost them the game but gave the Columbus Blue Jackets all of the momentum heading into Game 2.
Are things dire for Tampa Bay? No, not yet. A loss in Game 1 of a seven-game series is not a deathblow, no matter how embarrassing that loss was. They still have all the pieces in place to make a comeback in the series, especially if they get back to playing the kind of hockey that got them 62 wins this season.
In fact, a long, tough series against the Blue Jackets may be the exact thing the Lightning need in order to become truly prepared for a run at the Stanley Cup.
Tough Series Build Stanley Cup Winners
While it is a popular opinion that teams should finish off their opponents as quickly as possible, recent history has shown that this rarely leads to a Stanley Cup Championship.
Since the 2010 Playoffs, eight out of nine Stanley Cup winning teams played in at least one series that went six games. Out of those eight teams, seven of them played in three or more series that went six or more games. Many of those series featured the eventual winning team being down by the count of 3-0 or 3-1 before they eventually rallied back.
In fact, if you look at the Lightning’s run to the 2015 Stanley Cup Final, they incurred more adversity in that one postseason than they experienced in their next two playoff appearances combined. Having to fight tooth and nail to advance past even Round 1 made them a tougher, more resilient team, which eventually led to them gutting out a Game 7 win in the Eastern Conference Final.
Lightning Need a Fight Each Round
You could see in Game 1 that the Lightning were lacking any of that drive and motivation that got them to the Stanley Cup Final in 2015. Instead, they forgot everything that they learned throughout those hard-fought series.
Maybe they bought into their own hype, and going up 3-0 in the first period made them feel invincible. After that point, they started trying to make the perfect play instead of taking the smart play given to them.
If Tampa Bay had survived the Blue Jackets late comeback, then they wouldn’t have learned the valuable lesson that no one in the playoffs can be taken lightly. Instead, they took a metaphorical punch directly on the chin, getting knocked off their feet in the process.
Lightning Can Recover, but Will They?
One of two things will happen for the Lightning in Game 2. They will either enter the game in a daze, still in shock from their collapse and give up a 2-0 lead to Columbus. Or, they will get back to their feet and use that meltdown as a rallying point for the rest of their postseason run.
Even if this message strikes home and the Lightning play perfect hockey the rest of the series, they still could lose to this Blue Jackets squad. Simply put, they are a great team that have the pieces to counter Tampa Bay on all fronts.
However, there’s a reason why the Lightning set so many records this season. They are a special team themselves and have everything in place to win it all. They just have to remember that there won’t be any easy victories, even if you entered the postseason at the top of the standings.
Eugene Helfrick is a Tampa Bay Lightning writer who is actually from Tampa Bay. He has written about the Lightning for six years, covering everything from their run to the 2015 Stanley Cup Final, to their crushing first-round exit in 2019, to their redemption in the bubble in 2020. While he is happy to talk about just about anything from cows to cars to video games, hockey will always remain one of his favorite pastimes.