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Burns: Three things we learned from dropping Game 1

by Bryan Burns / Tampa Bay Lightning

Game 1 of Tampa Bay’s Second Round playoff series against the New York Islanders sure started well enough for the Lightning.

Just a shade over three minutes into the game, Jonathan Drouin received the puck on the left wing, wheeled around along the boards to elude a defenseman, slung the puck into the slot for Ondrej Palat and watched as the Czech winger buried his one-timer past Islanders goaltender Thomas Greiss for an early 1-0 Tampa Bay advantage.

The momentum the Lightning built from winning two-straight games and four of five in the Detroit series had carried over to the Second Round.

Or so the Bolts thought.

Scoring first did little to harm the Islanders, however, and actually might have woken them up. Less than three minutes after giving up the opening goal, the Islanders tied the score on an innocuous-looking shot from the right boards by Travis Hamonic. In the final three minutes of the opening period, Shane Prince got loose twice near the Bolts’ goal and capitalized on each opportunity to put the Islanders up 3-1.

John Tavares’ power-play goal in the second period against a Lightning penalty kill that ranked first in the league during the 2016 playoffs proved to be the dagger that the Bolts couldn’t recover from.

The Bolts fall to 7-12 all-time in Game 1s.

The Lightning have experienced this setback before, having dropped Game 1 in both the Detroit and New York Rangers series in last year’s postseason. The Bolts came back to win both on their way to the Stanley Cup Final.

How can the Lightning recover this time?

We’ll look at where the Bolts faltered in Game 1 and positives they can draw from for Game 2 in today’s 3 Things.

1. BEN BISHOP IS HUMAN

Before Game 1, Tampa Bay goaltender Ben Bishop was named one of three finalists – along with Los Angeles’ Jonathan Quick and Washington’s Braden Holtby – for this season’s Vezina Trophy given to the top netminder in the NHL.

The selection was well-deserved for Bishop. The 29 year old led the league in the regular season for goals-against average (2.06) – matching a Lightning franchise record in the process – and was second for save percentage (.926). His 35 wins were tied for fourth most in the NHL.

Bishop is the main reason the Lightning are back in the playoffs for a third-straight season.

But, on Tuesday, Bishop showed he’s mortal.

The Lightning goalie had a rare off night, allowing four goals on 13 shots to the Islanders and getting pulled before reaching the halfway mark of Game 1.

“I felt good out there,” Bishop said after the game. “It was just one of those nights where it wasn’t really hitting me.”

A couple of New York’s goals Bishop could do nothing about.

A couple of New York’s goals Bishop would like to have back.

“The first one, I was trying to make a block save but it somehow finds a hole,” Bishop recalled. “The second one, I’m not going to play any different. The third one my stick kind of gets caught up with (Palat) there and then obviously the fourth one a great shot.”

Bishop was pulled from a playoff game for performance for the third time in his career, giving way to Andrei Vasilevskiy after John Tavares power-play slap shot from the edge of the left circle at 8:59 of the second period put the Islanders ahead 4-1.

“This is not the first time this has happened – a couple times last year – so it’s not about the last game anymore,” Bishop said. “It’s all about the next one and just kind of focus on that.”

Historically, Bishop has followed a bad outing with one of his better ones.

In last year’s playoffs, Bishop let in five goals in Game 6 of the Eastern Conference Final against the New York Rangers. He followed that unusually poor performance by shutting out the Rangers at Madison Square Garden in Game 7 – the only time the Rangers have lost a Game 7 at home -- to lead the Bolts to the Stanley Cup Final.

“He has shown a propensity when that’s happened to him he’ll have a bounce-back game,” Lightning head coach Jon Cooper said. “It was just one of those nights where pucks had eyes.”

2. ROUND TWO, NEW CREW

The First Round playoff series against Detroit was marked by its physical play and lack of maneuverability in the neutral zone.

Time and space were precious commodities against the Red Wings. Odd-man rushes were rarities; when they did present themselves, the Bolts took advantage of their limited opportunities.

But the Second Round brings a new opponent and a new style of play, one that’s a departure from the rough and tumble nature of the Red Wings.

The Islanders are a fast-skating team, arguably as fast as the Lightning, and flip from defense to offense in an instant, their counterattack manufacturing one dangerous opportunity after another in Game 1.

The difference in play from the First Round to the Second took a while for the Lightning to adjust to.

When they finally did, the deficit proved too much to overcome.

“I think there was actually a lot more time and space than what we realized at the beginning,” Lightning center Tyler Johnson said. “We were trying to rush things too much, and when we were doing that, we weren’t executing. We weren’t making passes, and it’s really tough to play a game if you can’t make a pass.”

The Islanders were lying in wait in the neutral zone, waiting to pounce on a mistake. The Lightning obliged, turning the puck over 13 times.

“They worked,” Bolts center Brian Boyle said. “They’re a hard-working team. They’re a physical team, but if you turn the game into a 120-, 130-foot game for them, it’s easy for them to go on the attack.”

The Bolts dealt with this same issue last year too, transitioning from Detroit’s physical brand in the First Round to the more open style played by Montreal in the Second.

“Different opponent, different type of game, but at the same time, you expect us to be better, especially the two periods to start the game,” Tampa Bay defenseman Victor Hedman said. “Being down three goals is not good enough, and we know that. We’ve got to make sure we look at the tape (Thursday), work on the things we need to clean up and get ready for the next one.”

3. CONFIDENCE-BUILDING THIRD

As much as New York outplayed the Lightning for most of the first period and parts of the second in building a 4-1 lead, Tampa Bay’s rally in the final period should give the Bolts plenty to build on going forward in the series.

Sure, the Islanders undoubtedly were sitting back a bit more in the third in an attempt to protect their lead. But the Lightning generated plenty of offensive opportunities as the period progressed and seemed to figure out the Islanders a bit.

Nikita Kucherov netted his sixth goal of the postseason – tied with Tavares for most in the 2016 playoffs – at 7:41 of the third. A late Lightning power play produced even more chances, and the Bolts capitalized right after it expired when Valtteri Filppula sent a shot on net and fought through two defensemen to get a stick on the rebound and poke it past Greiss.

New York snuffed the Lightning surge with an empty-net goal to seal the Game 1 win.

“I thought we adjusted in the third,” Johnson said. “But, it was a little too late.”

Tampa Bay outshot the Islanders 17-5 in the final period.

“We got close,” Hedman said. “We wanted to obviously tie it up late there, but we got two goals and had some opportunities to tie the game up. We didn’t do it, and we’ll make sure we’ll get better for the next game.”

The Bolts focus now is to carry the lessons learned from the third period into Saturday’s Game 3.

“It’s over now. It doesn’t make a difference. We’re down 1-0,” Boyle said. “So we’re going to have to work twice as hard to try and get it next game.”

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