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Burns: 3 Things we learned from a Game 3 loss

Beat writer Bryan Burns recaps Tampa Bay's 3-1 loss to Columbus in Game 3 on Sunday

by Bryan Burns /

Remember in Space Jam when the Nerdlucks stole the talent of NBA superstars like Charles Barkley and Patrick Ewing and consumed that talent to become the Monstars, leaving the NBA players unable to perform even the most routine tasks on the basketball court like dribbling and shooting?

That's about the only explanation I can come up with for what's happening to the Tampa Bay Lightning right now.

Somehow, during the first intermission of Game 1, the Lightning had their talent and swag stolen, and the Bolts haven't been the same since.

The Lightning look a shell of the team that won 62 games and wrapped up the Presidents' Trophy as the NHL's top regular season team by March 18, the second fastest any team in the League has secured the coveted prize.

The Bolts played better in Game 3 at Columbus. You could make the argument after going down 2-0, the Lightning were much the better side.

It didn't matter.

Columbus withstood Tampa Bay's third period push and held on for a 3-1 victory in Game 3 to take a 3-0 lead in the best-of-seven series and push the Lightning to the brink of elimination and a potential sweep, something unthinkable before the playoffs started.

Remember how much confidence you had in this team following the first period of Game 1 when the Lightning held a 3-0 lead and completely had their way with the eighth-seeded Blue Jackets?

That confidence has been shattered, much like the Lightning's swag has mysteriously vanished.

Video: TBL@CBJ, Gm3: Vasilevskiy shuts the door on Anderson

Tampa Bay expected a fired-up Blue Jackets team to take the ice for Game 3 buoyed by their home crowd, which was practically salivating at the thought of moving one step closer to knocking off the top-seeded Bolts and winning a playoff series for the first time in franchise history.

And the Lightning were right to expect that initial surge from Columbus. The Blue Jackets kept possession of the puck for much of the opening frame and sent 12 shots on Andrei Vasilevskiy's net while limiting Tampa Bay to a paltry three shots.

But despite the lopsided shots totals at the end of the first 20 minutes, the Lightning actually played a pretty good first period in Columbus. They did what they had to do: withstand the initial Columbus push, play a smart, sound defensive game and not give up any Grade-A scoring chances while staying within their structure to create their own.

Vasilevskiy was dialed in early, making a couple difficult saves look routine and eliminating any second-chance opportunities by not allowing any rebounds.

"This was a game we really wanted," Lightning captain Steven Stamkos said. "We stuck with it. We knew they were going to push hard in the beginning. Vasy made some big saves, kind of calmed the storm a little bit and gave ourselves a chance in the 3rd. They're defending well. We're not getting any opportunities. We pushed hard in the third period hoping that at least we'd get one power play there after we got that goal. To have no power plays in a game is pretty surprising. You have to earn those and I thought we played well in the third but it's no consolation right now with the position we're in."

Things got away from the Lightning in the second period, however. Vasilevskiy gave up his first big rebound chance in the first two minutes, and Matt Duchene was waiting on the opposite side of the net to backhand a shot in for the game's opening goal and his second goal of the series, the trade deadline acquisition proving to be a shrew pickup for the Blue Jackets.

A few minutes later on Columbus' second power play of the game, Oliver Bjorkstrand rifled a shot over the blocker of Vasilevskiy for a 2-0 lead, a Lightning penalty kill that had been such a bonus for the team during the regular season, finishing as the top unit in the League, again letting the Bolts down in the postseason.

"One of the things that has gone our way all year has been our special teams," Lightning head coach Jon Cooper said. "It hasn't gone our way in the series, and that's one thing I don't think went too well for Columbus (in the regular season), especially their power play. And so, that was the difference tonight was special teams. First of all, we've got to find a way to get a power play because I'm not so sure that should have been a no-hitter against us tonight, but it was. But we've got to kill some of these off, and we haven't. That's hurt us throughout the series."

Down 2-0, the Lightning fought valiantly to get back in the game and the series but just came up short.

Video: Steven Stamkos on the Game 3 loss

Let's be real: Some of the chances the Lightning have missed in this First Round series are scoring opportunities the NHL's top scoring team absolutely would have buried in the regular season.

For whatever reason, the Lightning's calibration on their shots has just been off since the first period of Game 1 and they've squandered numerous scoring chances that could have made this a different series.

Anthony Cirelli could have potentially given the Lightning an early lead with his first-period shot from the right circle that clipped the top of the crossbar and ricocheted harmlessly into the netting behind the goal.

Down 2-0 in the second period, Mathieu Joseph had a 2-on-1 down low with Steven Stamkos and tried to dish off to his left for the Lightning center. Columbus defenseman David Savard did a brilliant job selling out and going down on the ice to break up the pass. If Joseph's feed gets through, it's 2-1 Lightning.

Or maybe not the way this series has gone for Tampa Bay. Stamkos probably would have snapped his stick on the shot attempt and the puck would have fluttered harmlessly away.

Ondrej Palat had a pair of opportunities from nearly identical spots in the slot before he scored what would eventually be the Lightning's only goal but misfired on both attempts.

In the third period, Joseph set up Paquette with a drop pass, giving the fourth line center a decent look from the right wing. He missed the net.

Moments later, Killorn hit the post from the slot and J.T. Miller whiffed on a backhand rebound attempt with Bobrovsky out of position.

Maybe they're gripping their sticks too tight in fear of becoming a Presidents' Trophy winner to not only lose in the First Round but get swept.

But, it's just not happening for the Lightning for whatever reason.

"I think we did a lot of good things, probably a lot more in this game than we did in Game 2 for sure," Lightning defenseman Ryan McDonagh said. "You've got to stick with the formula there and hope a few more find the back. We were definitely working better in support of one another, and that's what we've got to do for a complete game here. It helps us set up our offense and get out of our zone quick. That's the keys for us and we're going to try to get to the strength of our game here a lot sooner and hopefully it carries."

Video: Jon Cooper on special teams woes

If there's any reason to believe the Lightning can pull off the near-impossible and win four-consecutive games to somehow get out of the First Round series against Columbus, the third period of Game 3 should give Lightning fans the slightest smidgen of hope they have a chance.

Trailing 2-0 entering the third, the Lightning put together their second-best period of the series, making a push to get back in the game and the series but coming up just short. Palat finally slipped a puck past Columbus goaltender Sergei Bobrovsky at 4:40 of the third, Palat's initial attempt thwarted but the Czech forward sticking with it to slide a rebound under Bobrovsky to get the Lightning on the board.

Tampa Bay continued to pressure and were able to sustain that pressure against Bobrovsky for the first time since the opening period of the series, keeping the puck buried in the Columbus zone and moving the puck around to create some decent scoring opportunities. For a little bit, you started to think, maybe the Lightning have a miraculous comeback in them akin to the one we saw in Game 4 in the opening round of the 2015 playoffs in Detroit when the Bolts looked dead to rights down 2-0 with less than seven minutes to go and trailing in the series 2-1 before scoring twice in the closing minutes to send the contest to overtime and finishing the improbable rally early in the extra session.

The Lightning, however, just couldn't conjure that same magic Sunday night in Columbus.

"We pushed. We pushed hard," Stamkos said. "If anything maybe we found a recipe to break some of their structure there. Obviously, it wasn't good enough."

And that's where the hope lies. Perhaps the Lightning were able to finally find a formula to combat the airtight defense the Blue Jackets have used to suffocate the Bolts.

We'll have to wait for Game 4 Tuesday to see if the Lightning have a better idea now how to finally deal with the Blue Jackets.

"I thought as the game went on, we started to use (our skill) more and more and started to create some stuff," Johnson said. "Hopefully we get confidence that way and just keep going. We wish we just would have done that a little bit sooner."

Added Stamkos: "We've got to win a game, just win a game, get it back to Tampa. It's tough right now, but we just have to find a way. There's nothing to save it for right now. We just have to win the next game and see where it takes us."

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