Five days ago, the Tampa Bay Lightning had plenty of issues in a 2-1 loss to Atlantic Division rival and NHL standings leader Boston.
The Lightning did not get off to a great start against the Bruins, Alex Killorn saying after the game the Bolts were waiting to see what kind of Boston team they would get rather than dictating play and forcing the Bruins to adjust their style.
Once the Lightning did find their way into the game about midway through, they possessed the puck, hemmed the Bruins in their own zone and kept the pressure on Boston's net throughout.
The only problem, they couldn't get inside of the Bruins, all of their shots coming from the perimeter and rebounds being cleaned up before the Bolts could take advantage of them. The Lightning managed just 21 shots on net in that loss, the Bruins blocking an equal number of shots to make life easy on their goaltender Tuukka Rask.
Video: Jon Cooper on playing a full 60 min game
Fortunately for the Lightning, they have an opportunity to rectify those issues in a short turnaround rematch against the Bruins Saturday night at TD Garden, the final game in the four-game regular season series between the two teams that could be a potential playoff preview too.
Tampa Bay owns a 2-1-0 record against the Bruins this season, including a 4-3 shootout win their last trip to Boston October 17.
"We know how we played against them last time," Lightning forward Pat Maroon said. "Even though it was a 2-1 hockey game, I thought just our will and our puck battles weren't there. They outcompeted us so we've got to find a way to be prepared for a really good hockey game."
In Boston's win Tuesday at AMALIE Arena, the Bruins controlled play throughout the opening period and were rewarded with a late first-period goal from Brad Marchand. The Bruins continued their strong play in the second and went up 2-0 after Jake DeBrusk converted a breakaway.
Yanni Gourde's fight with Joakim Nordstrom after falling behind by two goals seemed to spark the Lightning as they grabbed control 35 minutes into the contest. The Bolts got within one when Mitchell Stephens found the puck at his feet in the slot after Tyler Johnson's shot hit him in the stomach and was able to turn a shoot past an unsuspecting Rask to cut Boston's lead to 2-1.
Tampa Bay's early deficit proved to be too large to overcome, however. The Lightning were held off the scoreboard in the third period in the 2-1 loss.
"A point of emphasis is to play 60 minutes against a quality opponent and not tiptoe our way into the game and be ready right from the start," Lightning head coach Jon Cooper said. "It's stuff we've talked about. We weren't on the ice yesterday. I think that'll help us. We were getting a little bit tired coming into the Montreal game, so hopefully we'll have a little more jump to start tonight."
Video: Pat Maroon | Pregame vs. BOS
Boston was superb in its effort to block shots Tuesday at AMALIE Arena, particularly in the third period when Tampa Bay was searching for the game-tying goal. But the Lightning could have been better too getting shots off quicker and finding shooting lanes around the Bruins' block.
"We've got to find ways to change angles," Maroon said. "They do a really good job of blocking shots. They protect the house really well. They put five guys in the middle of the house, and they protect really well and it's hard to get inside of them. But we've got to find ways. That just comes down to will and want and kind of battling through and getting in front of the net, changing the angle of the shot, making sure pucks do get through."
Playing in a hostile environment against a team eager to prove it's the team to beat not only in the Atlantic Division but the entire NHL, the Lightning can't afford to ease their way into tonight's game.
"It's about taking the play to them," Cooper said. "It's making sure we're not giving them time and space, but a lot of it comes down to executing. If you're not putting pucks on the tape and you're not putting pucks in areas that you can get them first, you can chase a little bit. That's what happens at times. We want to be the ones dictating where the puck goes and how the play is driven. When we do that, especially the way we did in the third period (Tuesday) against them, we want that. Part of that goes, we need to get more pucks to the net and take more advantage of the zone time we had in that period. More just dictating the pace."