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Slow starts haven't deterred Lightning in early wins

Tampa Bay is proud of its performance through two games, but knows it has 'to be better for 60 minutes.'

by Bryan Burns /

The first two games of the 2016-17 season for the Tampa Bay Lightning have been nearly mirror images of one another.

In both games, the Lightning have found themselves trailing 2-0 before some of the late arrivers in the crowd have even made it to their AMALIE Arena seat. In both games, the Bolts have spent the next two periods exerting their dominance while starting to rally.

In both games, the Bolts' attack has struggled early only to crank up as the game progresses. And in both cases, the Bolts have been able to overcome their slow start to earn a victory and two points.

It's not an ideal way to win hockey games. 

But, the Bolts are also one of nine teams still undefeated as the NHL begins its second week of action.

Video: Cooper spoke to the media after practice

"This group's been together a long time," said Lightning goaltender Ben Bishop, who was in net when the Bolts fell behind 2-0 and 3-1 in the season opener to Detroit before coming back to win 6-4. "Sometimes you're going to be up 2-0, sometimes you're going to be down 2-0. It's just about sticking with the process. I guess one of the good things is when you're down 2-0 that early, there's a lot of time to come back. You just stay with the system. You don't get upset or too worked up, you just kind of stick with what works, and eventually the tides will turn."

Which is exactly what the Lightning have done in a 6-4 victory over Detroit on Opening Night and a 3-2 win against New Jersey two days later.

There were no rah-rah speeches in the locker room during the first intermission of either game. Mid-game adjustments were nothing atypical either. .

Instead, it's a feeling permeating the Lightning locker room that no deficit is too large to overcome, a belief shaped by the battles the Lightning have been through the last couple years together in reaching the Stanley Cup Final in 2014-15 and the Eastern Conference Final in 2015-16. 

"We believe in the quality we have in this room to be able to score goals," Lightning defenseman Victor Hedman said. "We've got to give big props to our goalies on the first two games. There were a couple of chances there (for the opponent) to go up 3-0. We're fortunate enough to have two great goaltenders that bail us out there. We got it going there, especially in the end of the first against Detroit and in the second period against Jersey. We feel like we know what to expect now, and we've got to be better for 60 minutes."

Both Bishop and Andrei Vasilevskiy have been key in helping the Lightning turn those early deficits into victories. Against Detroit, Bishop wasn't his sharpest over the first half of the game, but once the Lightning took their first lead, the veteran goalie made a pair of spectacular back-to-back saves to keep them in front.

Vasilevskiy, making his first start of 2016-17, was forced to make an incredible outstretched left leg save minutes after the Bolts went down 2-0, keeping them within reasonable striking distance.

"It's especially nice knowing we've got some guys on our team that can put pucks in the back of the net," said Bishop, who took over the top spot on the Lightning's all-time saves leaderboard with 28 saves on Tuesday, giving him 4,963 for his Bolts career, four more than Daren Puppa (4,959). "Sometimes when you kind of get a little unlucky bounces, you kind of just have to shrug it off and kind of just worry about the next one. You never know what the final score's going to be, so the next one might be the big one to stop. So you just kind of give up those goals and worry about the next save."

Video: Bishop on Bolts' slow starts

Lightning head coach Jon Cooper said he wasn't displeased with the Bolts performance in the early going against Detroit.

Their play in the first period versus New Jersey, however, was a different story.

"The start against Detroit wasn't all that bad," Cooper said. "We just took a penalty early and got scored on, but the start against Jersey...things that have been a point of emphasis for us in training camp was turnovers and D-Zone coverage and everything was out of whack."

One positive about the early-game struggles: The Bolts have proven with their high-powered offense they can come back from nearly any deficit. There's never a feeling they're out of any game. Last season, the Lightning only rallied from a multi-goal deficit on three occasions.

Two games into 2016-17, they've already accomplished that feat twice.

"You always want to have the lead rather than being down two goals at the start of the game, but it shows a lot of character," Hedman said. "We always come back and believe in ourselves, and that's a strong way to do it. But, hopefully, we can turn it up at the start of games in the future.

The Lightning will get their first chance to clean up their early-game issues and get off to a better start when they host the defending Atlantic Division champion Florida Panthers at AMALIE Arena on Tuesday.

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