Columbus scored three goals over the first 22 minutes of the game, including two on the power play against a Tampa Bay penalty kill that ranked first in the NHL during the regular season. Mikhail Sergachev energized the AMALIE Arena crowd and gave the Lightning a glimmer of hope with his third-period goal to cut the Bolts' deficit to 3-1. But Riley Nash scored from the slot four minutes later to re-establish Columbus' three-goal lead, and Artemi Panarin tapped in a back-post backbreaker to seal a 5-1 victory for the Blue Jackets.
Since building a 3-0 lead in the first period of Game 1, Tampa Bay has been thoroughly outplayed by Columbus and outscored 9-1.
The Lightning need to right the ship fast, or it's quickly going to sink.
"We've got to win the next game," a dejected Steven Stamkos said from his locker room stall following the Game 2 loss. "That's it, there's no sugar coating it."
The series shifts to Columbus Sunday for a pivotal Game 3 that's not necessarily a do-or-die game for the Lightning but is as close as one can get.
Video: Stamkos on Finding a Way to Win
1. A DISASTROUS START
Before Game 2, the Lightning reiterated the setbacks they suffered in Game 1 were entirely self-inflicted. By sticking to their structure, making the simple play instead of the high-risk one and focusing on the defensive end of the ice above all else, they would be able to rebound with a positive result.
And then they proceeded to go out in Game 2 and fall behind 3-0 by the 1:28 mark of the second period.
The first five minutes of the game were evenly played, but the Blue Jackets struck first when Cam Atkinson stuck his stick out to deflect Matt Duchene's pass from the boards past Andrei Vasilevskiy. Columbus' goal came on a face-off inside the Lightning zone that the Bolts won, but Duchene beat J.T. Miller to Erik Cernak's pass up ahead along the wall and Atkinson slipped undetected between Cernak and Ryan McDonagh in front of the net to give Duchene a passing option.
Four seconds into Columbus' second power play of the game, Zach Werenski unleashed a shot from a step inside the blue line that beat Vasilevskiy for a 2-0 Blue Jackets lead.
And then again on the power play, early in the second period, Duchene slammed home his own rebound from in front with no resistance from the Lightning penalty kill to push Columbus' advantage to 3-0.
"We have to give them some credit, they've been playing two hard games, two 60-minute games," Bolts defenseman Dan Girardi said. "It seems like when we do make a mistake, they're making us pay for it. We are not happy where we are right now, but all it takes is one for Game 3 there at Columbus and we're right back in the series."
The Lightning thought they could get back in the series in Game 2.
But a disastrous start after a disastrous finish to Game 1 has them staring directly down the barrel of an 0-2 hole with the prospect of having to win at least one, if not both games in a hostile environment in Columbus.
Video: Girardi on Getting Pucks Deep
2. SPECIAL TEAMS LETDOWN
Tampa Bay's ineffectiveness on special teams through two games so far has been maybe the biggest shock of the series so far.
The Lightning didn't have just good special teams play entering the postseason. They had the best special teams in the NHL.
Their power play ranked 10th in NHL history. The penalty kill did a complete 180-reversal from its 28th-place ranking in 2017-18, coming in first in the League in 2018-19 by two-hundredths of a percentage point ahead of their opening round opponent Columbus.
But the Blue Jackets have thoroughly outplayed the Lightning on special teams in Games 1 and 2, a factor that, maybe more than any other, is responsible for their 2-0 lead in the series.
Columbus scored two more goals on the power play in Game 2, giving the Blue Jackets three power-play tallies on six opportunities for the series. The Lightning, meanwhile, have gone 0-for-5 on the power play and have really only looked threatening on one of those, that coming early in the second period of Game 2 when they had an opportunity to push their advantage to 4-0 but Sergei Bobrovsky made the save of the game and probably turned the tide of the series with his glove robbery of Nikita Kucherov from in close.
The Bolts have done zilch with the remainder of their power-play time.
"Special teams, again, has been our Achilles' heel in these first couple games and that was a strong point (in the regular season)," Stamkos said.
In order for the Lightning to get back in the series, they're going to have to win the special teams battle again, like they did for nearly every game of the regular season.
"We'll go back to the drawing board here, watch some video and figure out what we can do better in Game 3," Girardi said.
Video: Jon Cooper: " This is adversity"
3. FACING ADVERSITY
There were moments throughout the regular season where the Lightning were tested.
A day after losing their second-consecutive game for the first time all season, Andrei Vasilevskiy fractured his left foot in practice and was lost for a month. The Bolts quickly went down 2-0 in their next game at Pittsburgh and things were starting to look bleek, that is until Brayden Point netted three power-play goals over the span of about 1:30 between the first and second period to get the Lightning back on track.
Tampa Bay was overwhelmed in a 4-1 loss at Boston to end February, really the first time all season the Lightning looked vulnerable. They answered that challenge by winning nine of their next 10 games, including two victories over defending Stanley Cup champion Washington and convincing wins against Winnipeg and Toronto.
But those challenges were few and far between. And now the Lightning are facing a whole other level of adversity down 0-2 in the First Round as the top seed overall in the NHL against the eighth seed in the East.
Will they be able to respond when they haven't really been tested in this way all season?
"We had a tremendous regular season, statistic-wise, our wins, both our special teams finished first, but the regular season is different than the playoffs and things just happen so fast and all of the sudden it's 0-0 and there's a lot of excitement going into Game 1," Lightning head coach Jon Cooper said. "Then all of the sudden your down 0-2 at home and alarms are going off. Have we faced a ton of adversity this year? We haven't. I've been in the league six years, and it probably hasn't gone any easier than it has this year. So now we have some adversity and teams face it all the time and they face it in little pieces and this is a five-alarm fire. But it's adversity and sometimes that's good, sometimes you have to go through stuff like this. We'll see how we respond. The one thing I do know about being with this group is, they find a way and I'm sitting here and we're going to be in Columbus 48 hours from now and there's no other bench I want to be behind but ours. That's how much faith I have in this group."
This same Lightning group has responded in similar situations when tested. After dropping both games at home to the Capitals to start the Eastern Conference Final last season, the Lightning went on the road and won both Games 3 and 4 to come back to Tampa with the series tied 2-2. The Lightning were soundly defeated last season in the Second Round by Boston in Game 1 and rallied to win the next four against a dangerous Bruins team.
The situation may look bleak now, but this Lightning group should never be counted out, no matter the dire circumstances they face. They've proven they can rebound from difficult situations.
Their current predicament is just another opportunity to prove their resilience.
"We're focused on Game 3," Stamkos said. "There's nothing we can do anymore, so there's no sense in pouting right now. We've got to go into a difficult building and find a way to win a game and we'll go from there."