Let’s hope faith is more abundant than the Lightning offense right now


DENVER — Remember, this is Team Resilience. So, no, it’s not time to write an obituary.

And remember, these guys have come from behind against Toronto and New York just in the past six weeks. So, no, it’s not wise to dance on their graves after just two games.

But if you know a good florist, keep that number handy.

The Lightning are in a mess of trouble this morning. After Saturday night’s 7-0 loss to Colorado in Game 2 of the Stanley Cup final, the Lightning are staring up from the bottom of a winless hole.

“Am I shocked that we lost 7-0? I mean, I don’t think we saw that coming,” said captain Steven Stamkos. “But, in saying that, we have to man up and we have to be better. That’s what the expectation of our group is for the next game.”

To be fair, this result was not entirely unexpected. If you take a step back, you can rationalize that Colorado has home-ice advantage and merely held serve during the first two games at Ball Arena.

The problem is, when you take a step back against these guys, they skate past you at about 85 mph.

My goodness, the Avalanche are quick.

Lightning left wing Nick Paul (20) skates past Avalanche teammates as they celebrate a first-period goal by right wing Valeri Nichushkin. [ DOUGLAS R. CLIFFORD | Times ]

The game was barely seconds old when Erik Cernak mishandled a pass near the blue line and started skating back into the neutral zone to regroup with Ryan McDonagh. Before they knew what hit them, Gabriel Landeskog and Valeri Nichushkin were in their faces and skating away with the puck.

That was quite literally the last time the Lightning were in control.

“The game got away from us early and we have shown a propensity to push back for years. Tonight, we didn’t,” Lightning coach Jon Cooper said. “If this becomes a common theme in the series, it will probably be a short one.

“But I never doubt the guys in that room. Does it suck losing a game like that? For sure. We’re not used to it. It doesn’t really happen for us. But is it going to happen at times? Yeah, it is. You just hope it doesn’t happen in the Stanley Cup final.”

Yeah, this was a beatdown. It was thorough, it was efficient, it was somewhat humiliating for the two-time defending Stanley Cup champions.

And while the score will be in headlines across the world, it is the details that should alarm the Lightning. They were terrorized in 5-on-5 situations, they were ineffective on the penalty kill and they were outscored on their own power play. There is virtually no area of their game that escaped the carnage.

Except, bizarrely, goaltender Andrei Vasilevskiy.

The worst night of his professional life was, in no way, his own fault. Darcy Kuemper got a shutout for the Avs, and Vasilevskiy probably had more spectacular saves by the end of the night.

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The issue was everything that happened in front of Vasilevskiy. The Lightning had only 23 shots on goal in Game 1, which was their lowest total of the postseason. They made a point of saying they needed to increase the pressure on Kuemper and hopefully create chaos and rebounds in front of the net.

Instead, they finished with a pathetic 16 shots on net.

Avalanche center Darren Helm, left, and Lightning left wing Alex Killorn collide during the third period.
Avalanche center Darren Helm, left, and Lightning left wing Alex Killorn collide during the third period. [ DOUGLAS R. CLIFFORD | Times ]

There are some similarities to the New York series in the Eastern Conference final. Like that round, the Lightning lost one close game and one blowout on the road. And the Rangers looked younger, quicker and more motivated, just like the Avalanche.

The difference is in the timing. The Lightning lost Game 1 by a 6-2 score but then played fairly well in the third period of the second game. It was, they would say later, the moment when the series turned around and led to four consecutive Tampa Bay wins.

This time, the Lightning look as if they’re getting worse as the series goes on.

“There were so many things that are so uncharacteristic of our group tonight,” Stamkos said. “We’ve got to give them credit. You tip your cap to the execution they had, but there’s a fine line between having respect for your opponent and having too much respect for your opponent.

“We need to realize we got here for a reason and let’s get back to our game. They have an unbelievable team over there. Great skill at every position. But so do we. So let’s find out what we’re made of when we get back home.”

It’s hard to recall after a night like that, but the Lightning are 44-20 in the postseason since 2020. They have proven themselves time after time, challenge after challenge.

There is still a familiar heartbeat in that locker room.

Just keep a defibrillator handy.

John Romano can be reached at jromano@tampabay.com. Follow @romano_tbtimes.

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