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Three keys for Lightning and Canadiens in Game 2

Thursday, 04.17.2014 / 7:37 PM
Arpon Basu  - Managing Editor LNH.com

TAMPA -- One of the biggest reasons NHL teams rely so much on video is that it unmasks all bias. What you see on video is what you get, and Tampa Bay Lightning coach Jon Cooper did not like what he saw.

Cooper walked into his postgame press conference after his Lightning lost 5-4 in overtime to the Montreal Canadiens in Game 1 of their Eastern Conference First Round series and said he felt his team didn't play that badly. In spite of the Lightning being outshot 44-25, Cooper wondered if the disparity in scoring chances was anywhere near as dramatic, guessing it wasn't.

Cooper walked into his press conference after practice Thursday and had an entirely different view of the game. He explained that sometimes he can feel his team played poorly during a loss but afterwards on video he'll see a lot of the positives that he missed live come to light.

"[Wednesday] night was the reverse for me," Cooper said. "There were times [Wednesday] night I thought we played OK, but then I watched the tape and I was extremely disappointed in the way we played. Montreal was a far superior team than we were [Wednesday] night. I don't consider them a far superior team than we are; I think we are extremely close. But in the 78 minutes we played or whatever it was, they were the better team last night.

"In my head I didn't see it that way until I watched the tape."

Canadiens coach Michel Therrien could probably say the same thing.

Even though he remains pleased with how his team played, Therrien can admit the Canadiens had several areas of their game that will need to improve if they hope to head back to Montreal with a 2-0 series lead.

Here are three things that need to happen for each team heading into Game 2 on Friday.

LIGHTNING

1. Cherish the puck

The Lightning defensemen appeared to have a lot of trouble handling the Canadiens' forecheck and were forced into numerous turnovers while trying to get out of their zone. That led to increased time in the offensive zone for the Canadiens, with the obvious result that the Lightning spent more time defending than they did on the attack.

Cooper spent a lot of time Thursday reinforcing some of the basic principles of the Lightning breakout, and Tampa Bay will need to make those a top priority to limit the mistakes in this area in Game 2.

"I believe a lot of their success came out of our colossal errors," Cooper said. "That can't happen at playoff time, and that's pretty uncharacteristic to the way we've played.

"Every team makes mistakes, but not the number we made [Wednesday] night."

The defensemen were not the only ones to blame for the carelessness with the puck. Tampa Bay's forwards were leaking out into the neutral zone regularly, forcing high-risk passes from the defense that had a very low rate of success.

"Some of the turnovers can be avoided," forward Alex Killorn said. "A lot of times when we were regrouping, we weren't really helping out our defense, kind of hanging them out to dry. Turnovers were created because of that."

2. The mental side

There were eight players on the Lightning who played their first Stanley Cup Playoff game Wednesday, and early on in the game, the lack of experience showed.

The grandeur of the stage, the intensity of the crowd, the pace of play, everything is a little different in the playoffs and requires a certain adjustment if you've never experienced it before. It was just one game, but now those eight players have at least gotten a taste of it and they will need to be better prepared to handle it in Game 2.

"I don't know if you could say there were a lot of jitters," rookie center Tyler Johnson said. "There's a lot of excitement, obviously, and with that sometimes you might try to do too much or try too hard. We just need to focus and get back to playing our game, just do what got us here. It's just another game, that's how we need to look at it."

3. Overcome injury

If there is one team that has grown accustomed to handling the loss of key players to injury this season, it's the Lightning.

Captain Steven Stamkos missed nearly four months with a broken leg, and the Lightning made the playoffs by coming together as a team and collectively compensating for their best player's absence.

Now it's dynamic rookie forward Ondrej Palat who is likely to miss Game 2 with an upper-body injury, and again the Lightning will need to compensate for his absence collectively.

Palat fills many roles for Cooper as a penalty-killer and trusted two-way forward who played on the top line with Johnson and Stamkos. His spot will be filled by Killorn, who responded well by setting up Stamkos for the game-tying goal in the third period of Game 1.

"Obviously [Palat] is a big part of our team," Johnson said. "I don't know what's going on or what his status is, but we've had injuries in the past and guys have stepped up all season. Obviously it hurts not having him if that's the case, at the same time we have guys that fill that role as well."

CANADIENS

1. Power surge

The Canadiens spent practically their entire practice working on the power play, which has failed to score in its last 25 opportunities. The last time the Canadiens scored a power-play goal was March 25, a span of nine games.

The inefficiency of the power play could have cost the Canadiens dearly in Game 1. Killorn was whistled for high-sticking Canadiens forward Max Pacioretty with 2:01 to play in regulation, a play that might have saved a goal. But Montreal failed to register a shot, much less a goal, and the game went to overtime.

"We're not scoring," Canadiens defenseman P.K. Subban said when asked what was wrong with the power play. "It's just not going in for us. If we score, it changes everything. I think the most important thing for our team right now is working together as a five-man unit. It's not just on the forwards, it's on the defense as well, making sure we're putting the pucks in good places so our forwards can retrieve it and then create more scoring chances."

2. Contain Stamkos

Stamkos scored two of Tampa Bay's three goals in the game and both came off the rush. The first was an end-to-end beauty, with Stamkos using the boards to get around Brandon Prust before beating Carey Price with a sharp-angle shot. The second was off a 2-on-1 that was beautifully set up by Killorn, with little for Stamkos to do but tap the puck into an empty net.

If the Canadiens want to win the series, Stamkos cannot be allowed opportunities like the ones he had in Game 1.

"If he scores two goals [a game] the rest of the series it's not a good-enough job," Subban said. "We've got to make sure that we're tighter on him. We know he's a key player, but they've got other players that can score as well. We have to key on him when he's on the ice; we have to make it tough on him. I don't know if you can ever shut players like them down totally, but you always want to eliminate their time and space and get under their skin, frustrate them."

3. Win the bottom-six battle

Perhaps the biggest reason the Canadiens won Game 1 was that their bottom-six forwards outplayed their Lightning counterparts, and that will need to continue in Game 2. Lars Eller's line with Brian Gionta and Rene Bourque accounted for two goals, with Eller and Gionta assisting on each other's goals. Then there was the fourth line centered by Daniel Briere with Michael Bournival and Dale Weise on the wings; that trio spent most of its shifts in the offensive zone and ultimately produced the winning goal in overtime, when Briere set up Weise in front of the net.

Both lines won their matchups with the third and fourth lines of the Lightning, and that's normally a winning formula in the playoffs.

"We talk a lot about the success the past few years of the Boston Bruins, and they always have a good third and fourth line that are dangerous, that create scoring chances," Briere said. "So it's important, especially when you get in the playoffs. Depth becomes that much more crucial."

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