The Lightning are defending champions for a reason. One of their biggest attributes has been an ability to bounce back. It’s a quality they’ve developed under head coach Jon Cooper, and one that was on full display last postseason when they won the Stanley Cup a year after the Presidents’ Trophy winning team was swept out of the First Round by the Blue Jackets.
Tampa Bay has not lost a series (6-0) or back-to-back games in the postseason since being swept. The veteran roster had to learn to win after tough playoff defeats, and that paid off with a Cup victory. Now they’re down to the Islanders after a sloppy Game 1 where they mismanaged the puck, something you never want to do against a Barry Trotz team.
“We have a recipe,” Cooper said. “We didn’t follow the directions [in Game 1]. What turned out, it didn’t look too good.”
The Lightning paid for their mistakes in Game 1, and Monday was a day for watching video and seeing how things got away from them. Cooper praised his team’s ability to adapt following defeats, and he’s expecting a much better Game 2 Tuesday night (8 p.m. ET; NBCSN / Peacock).
Per Natural Stat Trick, the Islanders had the advantage at 5-on-5 in unblocked shot attempts (31-27), high-danger chances (9-8), and most importantly, the scoreboard (2-0). Tampa Bay’s turnovers opened the game up and didn’t allow their offense to get rolling. Three straight penalties between the first and second periods didn’t help either.
[NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs 2021 schedule, TV info]
The Islanders’ blue line, led by the dynamic pair of Adam Pelech and Ryan Pulock, are good at closing off passing and shooting lanes and forcing turnovers. As we’ve now seen through two rounds and a game, no matter your talent, if you can’t find those holes in the opponent’s defense, or create movement to open up those chances, you’re not going to have much success.
“It looks like [a shooting chance] is there, but they’re pretty quick to take those lanes away,” said Lightning defenseman Victor Hedman.
An inexperienced coach and team, who entered as series favorites, might overreact after an opening game loss. But adaptability has been a hallmark of Tampa Bay’s DNA since Cooper took over. There are enough veterans on the roster that know a series isn’t won or lost after a single game and as we get deeper into the playoffs, earning four wins gets tougher and tougher.
Clean up the mistakes, trust what got you here, and stick to the game plan.
“If we’re more careful with the puck, I like our chances,” said Hedman.
ISLANDERS VS. LIGHTNING (NYI leads 1-0) – series livestream link
Game 1: Islanders 2, Lightning 1
Game 2: Tues. June 15: Islanders at Lightning, 8 p.m. ET (NBCSN / Peacock)
Game 3: Thurs. June 17: Lightning at Islanders, 8 p.m. ET (USA Network / Peacock)
Game 4: Sat. June 19: Lightning at Islanders, 8 p.m. ET (USA Network / Peacock)
*Game 5: Mon. June 21: Islanders at Lightning, 8 p.m. ET (NBCSN / Peacock)
*Game 6: Wed. June 23: Lightning at Islanders, 8 p.m. ET (NBCSN / Peacock)
*Game 7: Fri. June 25: Islanders at Lightning, 8 p.m. ET (NBCSN / Peacock)
Sean Leahy is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter @Sean_Leahy.