The Lightning quickly found out, however, the regular season is far from the postseason.
New York won 2-1 in Game 1, its 15th-straight one-goal game in the playoffs and 13th this season. Former Bolt Dominic Moore provided the game-winner, getting a right-leg touch on a thrown puck toward the net that beat Bishop with 2:25 remaining.
The Lightning will try to regroup and grab a needed road win in Game 2 on Monday (8 p.m. puck drop). How can they get it? Here are three big takeaways from Saturday’s Game 1 loss.
1. SHOOT THE PUCK
The Lightning averaged 27 shots per playoff outing entering Game 1 against the Rangers.
On Saturday, they sent 24 shots toward Henrik Lundqvist’s net, not a paltry number by any stretch but also not good enough against a goalie of Lundqvist’s caliber.
Most of those shots were of the one-and-done variety: one shot on goal, Lundqvist blocks it away and the Rangers are off and skating the other way.
In order to get positive results in the series going forward, the Lightning need to keep sustained pressure on trips into the offensive zone with multiple shots on goal while also crashing the net in search of rebound opportunities.
“I don’t think we tested Lundqvist as much as we should have, not a lot of quality shots, not a lot of shots period,” Bolts captain Steven Stamkos said. “We have to find a way to be better and generate more.”
Ben Bishop played superbly in goal for the Lightning and, arguably, was the better goalie in his battle with Lundqvist. But Lundqvist got the win and the Rangers took the series opener because they threw more pucks at net and were rewarded when one went off Moore’s right leg and past Bishop late in Game 1.
“Two good goaltenders, so we can’t expect to put a couple past a goalie of that caliber with the minimal chances we had tonight,” Stamkos said.
2. STEADY MATURATION
Speaking of Bishop, the Lightning goalie has continued to grow as the playoffs have advanced.
He won a pressure-packed Game 6 in Detroit with the Lightning facing elimination and registered his first postseason shutout two days later in Game 7 to close out the Red Wings.
With the Lightning reeling in the Montreal series, having lost two straight and in danger of blowing a three-games-to-none lead, Bishop carried the Bolts over the finish line, stopping everything the Canadiens threw his way through two-and-a-half periods before giving up a meaningless late goal with the Game 6 in hand.
In Game 1 of the Eastern Conference Final, Bishop was again at the top of his game. With New York spending most of the first period in the Lightning zone, Bishop stood tall in net, confidently turning aside each wave of Rangers scoring chances. His best save came early in the period when Derek Stepan had a partial break after getting loose behind the Lightning defense. Stepan tried to shoot high over Bishop’s glove, but Bishop got just enough of the puck to push it over the crossbar and away from danger.
Both New York goals would have required miraculous saves by Bishop to keep them out of the back of the net. Stepan’s game-opening score came on a rebound at the near post with Bishop’s stick knocked out of his right hand. The game-winner was a freak deflection in the crease that Bishop had no chance on.
“He gave us a chance to stick with it,” Stamkos said. “That’s what he’s done all playoffs. He was our best player. He kept us in it. We have to find a way as a team to build off of this.”
During the postseason, Bishop has routinely been overshadowed by the opposing goalie. Against Detroit, all the talk focused on Petr Mrazek’s performance as a rookie. Versus Montreal, everybody wondered how the Lightning would put pucks past all-world goalie Carey Price.
Yet, Bishop is still playing and Mrazek and Price are on their summer vacation.
That slight has continued into the Eastern Conference Final, where Lundqvist has grabbed most of the headlines for the way he rises to the occasion in the playoffs.
The Lightning are perfectly content letting the other goalie get all the attention.
They know what they’ve got in Bishop.
“When the pressure was at its highest is when he has stood the tallest,” Cooper said in the days leading up to Game 1. “I think you look at the four teams left, you could probably say that about all the goaltenders. They’ve maybe had their struggles at some points in the series, but in the biggest moments, they became the stars, and (Bishop’s) a big reason why we’re here.”
3. BOYLE’S QUESTIONABLE STATUS
When Game 1 pregame warmups started, Lightning center Brian Boyle was noticeably absent. Soon after, the Lightning issued a statement saying Boyle had sustained an undisclosed injury and would be day-to-day.
Boyle’s status for Game 2 is uncertain. What is certain is the Lightning are not the same without the jack-of-all-trades in the lineup.
Boyle does so much to help the Lightning win games. He’s one of the best faceoff men the Bolts have. As a fourth-line center, he scored 15 goals, sixth-most on the team. He’s the top penalty killer on the team, his long reach at the top of the diamond often disrupting the opposition’s power play before it has a chance to get set up.
At the end of the game, whether the Lightning are trying to preserve a lead or looking to get the game-tying or game-winning goal, Boyle can usually be found on the ice
If the Lightning are without Boyle going forward in the series, it could be the difference in whether the Bolts are able to advance to the Stanley Cup Final.
“Whenever you lose a guy like that, it’s tough, but hopefully he can get better here and he can get back in the lineup,” Bishop said.
If Boyle can’t go, Cooper said others will have to step up in his absence.
“Hopefully he is able to come back at some point, but we’ve got depth in our organization,” Cooper said. “(Vladislav Namestnikov) stepped in there and I thought did a great job. He’s not Brian Boyle and the situations that (Boyle) takes, but our penalty kill was fine and I thought we did OK in the dot. He’s definitely missed. He’s a big part of our team. But everybody misses somebody. (The Rangers) are missing (Mats) Zuccarello. Big part of their team. That happens in the playoffs.”