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Burns: 3 Things we learned from losing Game 1

by Bryan Burns / Tampa Bay Lightning

If someone told you prior to Thursday’s opening game of Tampa Bay’s First Round playoff series against Detroit the Lightning would register 46 shots on goal while giving up only 14, you’d probably spend the rest of the day figuring out your post-victory celebration plans.

The Red Wings crashed the party, however, stealing Game 1 from the Lightning.

Despite its low shot output, Detroit capitalized on the few chances it had. Pavel Datsyuk scored on the Red Wings’ first shot, which didn’t come until over nine minutes had passed in the game. Datsyuk added his second tally eight seconds in the middle frame on the power play to put Detroit up for good.

The Lightning will have to find a way to put the puck past Detroit goalie Petr Mrazek if they hope to even the series on Saturday and break a six-game playoff losing streak.

So what did we learn from Game 1, lessons that might carry over through the remainder of the First Round series? Read ahead in today’s 3 Things.

1. PETR THE GREAT

Petr Mrazek was Detroit’s backup goaltender for most of 2014-15, making 26 starts to Jimmy Howard’s 50 in the regular season. But on Monday, Red Wings coach Mike Babcock gave the nod to Mrazek for the playoff opener against the Lightning, in part due to his strong play down the stretch and Howard’s inconsistency.

Mrazek justified his coach’s decision with the best performance of his career.

Mrazek made 44 saves, the most he’s ever recorded in a single game, to frustrate the top scoring attack in the NHL.

“He’s an aggressive goaltender, and he’s got some big bodies in front that help clear the way a little bit,” Lightning center Brian Boyle said. “We can do a better job of getting in front and maybe making life a little bit harder.”

As good as Mrazek was on Thursday though, he wasn’t necessarily unbeatable. Sure, the Lightning had 46 shots on goal, but how many were Grade-A scoring chances? Less than 10 by my count. Mrazek wasn’t called upon to make the spectacular save, just the routine ones, which he did with ease.

It was evident from the opening puck drop the game plan was to put as many shots on Mrazek’s net as possible. Bolts defensemen shot relentlessly from the blue line, hoping Mrazek would give up a rebound that the Lightning could pounce on. Early, Mrazek obliged, letting a couple pucks get away from him.

The Lightning couldn’t capitalize, however.

“If we can play the way we did tonight and we continue to play that way through the series, I’ll take our chances,” Lightning coach Jon Cooper said. “If we play like that, and they keep beating us, well, then give credit to their goaltender.”

2. BIG-GAME BOYLE

Moments like last night are exactly why Brian Boyle was brought to Tampa Bay during the offseason.

With the Lightning reeling, having given up the game’s opening goal despite dominating play in the first period, Boyle, the playoff veteran, came through with a clutch goal to re-energize the building and get the Lightning back into the game.

And he did it pretty much by himself.

Boyle used his long reach to knock the puck away from Marek Zidlicky at the blue line with Detroit looking to set up its power play. The puck shot out all the way into the Red Wings’ zone, and Boyle outraced everybody to retrieve it with Mrazek unsure whether to come out and challenge or stay in his net.

Alone on goal, Boyle made a hard move just outside the crease to get Mrazek to bite and slipped the puck past, a big-time play for a guy not necessarily known for his offensive production.

Detroit finished the regular season with the second-best power play in the league. The Lightning had the NHL’s second-rated penalty kill at home.

In this particular matchup, the advantage went to the Bolts, mainly because Brian Boyle plays for them.

Boyle has been a jack-of-all-trades for the Tampa Bay Lightning this season.

On Thursday, he added another title to his Lightning resume: playoff producer.

3. 0-FOR THE POWER PLAY

Tampa Bay’s power play has been an issue all season, but the Lightning thought they had finally regained some swagger with the man-advantage late in the regular season, scoring in five of the final six games and three times in the next-to-last game against New Jersey.

On Thursday, though, the power play again fizzled, going 0-for-7.

The Lightning had two power plays over the final 10 minutes trailing by a goal but failed to take advantage of the opportunity.

“I think we had a lot of good looks, a lot of good chances, but to go (0-for-7) and let that shorthanded in in the third period, it’s a tough one to swallow,” Bolts defenseman Victor Hedman said. “If we keep moving the puck, keep creating those chances, something’s going to go in.”

Hedman’s correct. Despite the results, the Lightning power play wasn’t as anemic as it would appear. The Bolts kept the puck in the Detroit zone, moved it around well and sent a decent amount of shots at Mrazek.

They just couldn’t find a way to get it past the red-hot goalie.

“We had some looks,” Cooper said. “Boyle had a good look at the end there…We had some looks. Give Mrazek some credit. Kid played well tonight.”

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