Sunday, April 20, 2014

In a Deep, Deep Hole. Can They Come Back?

Not what you want to see when the Lightning are trying to come back

Let's start with honesty. I have been a horrible Lightning fan. During the first two games of the post season I have seen a whopping 15 seconds of in-game action. Chalk it up to work obligations (Wednesday night) and familial obligations (Friday night). Also due to work restrictions I can't grow a playoff beard. Luckily, due to some last minute scheduling changes the streak was broken and I was able to catch most of game 3.

Still most of my opinion on how the series has been going is based on other people's coverage. From what I've read and digested how do I feel the first round is going for the Lightning?


Off-topic – I cannot tell you how much I loved this scene from Mad Men. Pete Campbell is 30 different kinds of awesome. Most of last season I zoned out on Don Draper's descent into his own personal hell but perked up whenever Vincent Kartheiser's receding hairline and kick-ass sideburns showed up on screen. The show itself plodded a long a bit, but I have a feeling it will rebound nicely in it's last season (although I think things end badly for Mr. Draper).

Back to hockey.

I did watch most of the third game, which I'm thinking is actually the best game the Lightning have played over all. Still they ended up on the short end of a 3-2 score. They fought hard and Matt Carle's slapper from the point silenced the Montreal crowd for about three seconds. A few last second scrambles made things interesting at the end, but it wasn't enough to pull off the comeback.

A lot will be written (and has been tweeted) about the lack of coherent officiating in the game. Sure, the refs disallowed a goal for the Lightning because Alex Killorn was run into by Carey Price three and a half minutes before the goal was actually scored. Was it a bad call? Of course. Did it swing the momentum of the game? Yes. But who's fault is that?

One of the things you see from experienced teams is the ability to overcome bad calls. The bad calls become forgotten footnotes in the overall story of the game. So far the Lightning haven't been able to do that in the postseason. They're getting a hard lesson in how playoff hockey ramps up to a new level.

That being said, I'm not ready to count the Lightning out yet. After all, haven't we made that mistake a few times already? At the beginning of the season, after Stamkos' injury, the post-Olympic fade when there was a danger of the Maple Leafs catching them for a playoff spot. In all these cases the team has found a way to bounce back and put a streak together. Now, of course, they need a four game winning streak to keep their season alive.

How can they do it? By beating the living shit out of the Canadiens. Sorry to be a bit vulgar, but the honest truth is that they need to ramp the physical play up. They need to hit them, wait for them to get up, hit them again, wait for them to get the puck and hit them a third time. Eliminate the time and space that Montreal has with the puck and I think you'll see them cough the puck up a little bit more.

That goes against everything I believe in. I like the beautiful game. I like three passes to set up a tap in goal. I like speed and putting the defense on their heels. Unfortunately, that isn't going to work against Montreal. Should the Lightning be unable to pull off the comeback and the Canadiens match up against the Bruins next round, watch what Boston does to them. 

Ondrej Palat's pratfall was way better than Radko Gudas' in game one.

Part two of the comeback plan involves convincing Anders Lindback that he is a mini version of Ben Bishop. He has to be the difference. That isn't to say he's been playing horrible. He has been playing....good. With Carey Price playing like he's in the Olympics instead of the NHL playoffs, “good isn't” enough. Case in point, the third Montreal goal on Sunday night. The Lightning were in the game, dictating most of the play when they got out-hustled in their own zone. Tomas Plekanec wrists a shot at the net and it finds a way past Lindback.

If he is to be the difference he has to make that save. It wasn't an easy save, there were two players screening him, but it's a save that has to be made. Those are the saves that Price is making, and that, not bad officiating, is why the Lightning are down 3-0 in the series.

I'm pretty sure Ben Bishop isn't leading the team through the tunnel anytime soon. I think if he was going to play, game 3 would have been the one for him to be between the pipes. Coach Cooper didn't want to see his team down three games to none, and a 85% Bishop is better than Lindback.

Since I just spent the last three paragraphs heaping blame on Lindback you would think I'm pinning this all on him. That's not the case. The Lightning didn't get to the playoffs by playing tight defensive games and winning low scoring games. They have to get the offense rolling. Even during game three where they took the play to Montreal there were times when they shot themselves in the foot with bad outlet passes and cross-ice attempts that were easily picked off by Montreal defenders.

Your shoulder pads are not made of gummi bears, Anders.

If they clean up their play with the puck and put pressure on Montreal they still have a shot. Is it a great shot? No, but maybe this team is young enough and inexperienced enough to not know that they are supposed to roll over and die. If they take one in Montreal they can build on it. One win builds the confidence, two wins puts some doubt in the Canadiens' minds and the next thing you know it's a series again.


Captain Canuck said...

if they start the physical play, then Montreal dresses George Parros, Travis Moen, Ryan White, Jared Tinordi etc... and it'll be all over. That's why Boston can't beat Montreal. Well, that and Rask.... Hopefully the playoffs stay true to the regular season.

The first two games.... game one was pretty equal, either team could've taken it. 20 Lightning showed up to play, and they played well. 19 Habs showed up, and they played well. Unfortunately, Carey Price was horrible.

Game two, he fixed that, and it was one sided.
I missed all but the first three minutes of the third in game three, so I have no idea what happened.

Justin G. said...

If I was Coach Cooper I'd like my chances against a Montreal team with Moen, Parros, etc in the line up then the one they're currently facing.

Also, the hit, hit, hit theory is more about finishing checks then about playing dirty or roughing folks up.

Habs have been the better team for the majority of the series. Frankly, that's the bottom line.