It’s not the position they want to be in.
But, it’s also a position they’re quite familiar with.
The Tampa Bay Lightning find themselves in a 1-0 hole in their best-of-seven, Second Round series with the New York Islanders after dropping Game 1 on Tuesday 5-3 at Amalie Arena.
For the first time in the 2016 playoffs, the Lightning are trailing in a postseason series.
But they have experience from last year’s Stanley Cup playoff run to draw from.
Tampa Bay dropped three of four Game 1s in the 2015 postseason. The Lightning would go on to win two of those three series.
Following the three Game 1 losses, the Bolts won Game 2 each time by a combined 15-6 score. There was a 5-1 shellacking of the Red Wings in the First Round, a 6-2 blitzkrieg in Madison Square Garden against the Rangers in the Eastern Conference Finals and, in the Cup Final, a 4-3 Game 2 win over the Blackhawks.
All of which is to point out the Lightning know a thing or two about putting disappointing playoff losses behind them.
“We don’t want to lose Game 1 but understand the fact we have lost Game 1 in a series both home and the road and we’ve come back,” Lightning head coach Jon Cooper said. “We’re just making it hard on ourselves. Plus, it makes Game 2 paramount…We got home ice, we lost it but let’s put ourselves in a position to be 1-1 when we go (to Brooklyn). We’ve done this before. Let’s draw from our experiences and the past, but we’re going to have to play a little better than we did (Tuesday) night to pull this one out.”
Game 2 Saturday afternoon at Amalie Arena may not be a must-win for the Lightning.
But, it’s pretty close.
“The way you look at the playoffs, the next game is always a must-win,” Bolts winger Alex Killorn said. “…Especially at home when you’re going down one game, you don’t want to go to Brooklyn two games down.”
Mirroring the rest of the team, Tampa Bay goaltender Ben Bishop has excelled in the game following a loss, particularly when not playing well during that loss. In last year’s Eastern Conference Final, Bishop allowed five goals on 26 shots at home in Game 6 with a chance for the Lightning to clinch the series and go to the Cup Final. Bishop was eventually pulled from the game.
Three days later, Bishop rebounded and collected maybe the greatest victory of his career, making all 22 stops and shutting out New York in Game 7 at Madison Square Garden, a venue where the Rangers had never lost a Game 7 previously.
“That’s the big thing about the playoffs, all that matters is if you won or lost,” Bishop said. “It doesn’t matter how you played. It doesn’t matter if you gave up 10 or zero or one. If you lose a game, you lose a game. You can’t really do anything about it. So, it’s all about just getting ready for the next game if you win or lose.”
Perhaps Tampa Bay’s best trait last season was its consistency. The Lightning didn’t let losses pile up. In the regular season, the Lightning never dropped more than two consecutive games. That trend continued in the playoffs where they lost multiple games in a row just twice. The first came in Games 4 and 5 in a Second Round series against Montreal after the Bolts sprinted out to a three-games-to-none lead in the series. The Bolts eventually won the series in six games.
The second occurred in the Stanley Cup Final, when the Blackhawks won three straight to win their third Stanley Cup in six season after the Bolts nudged ahead 2-1 in the series.
With nearly an identical squad this season, the Lightning are hoping that consistency carries over into this year’s playoffs. They’ve already shown once this postseason an ability to bounce back from a loss, playing maybe their best game of these playoffs in a 3-2 First Round win in Game 4 vs. Detroit after dropping Game 3.
“It’s a seven-game series for a reason,” Johnson said. “We’ve been down before in series. We’ve lost the first game in series. We’ve been here.”
Added Bolts center Brian Boyle: “We had a lot of different experiences last year, and we were a resilient team then and we should be now.”