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Eastern Conference Final | Lightning vs. Capitals

Conference Final

Kucherov says Lightning owe fans better effort in Game 2 against Capitals

Tampa Bay needs more shots, fewer penalties to even Eastern Final

by Dan Rosen @drosennhl / NHL.com Senior Writer

BRANDON, Fla. -- The big picture in the Stanley Cup Playoffs matters. Nikita Kucherov hasn't lost sight of it.

The Tampa Bay Lightning forward offered a unique reason why their subpar performance in a 4-2 loss against the Washington Capitals in Game 1 of the Eastern Conference Final on Friday was unacceptable and why they must make amends in Game 2 at home Sunday (8 p.m. ET; NBCSN, CBC, SN, TVAS).

 

[RELATED: Complete Lightning vs. Capitals series coverage]

 

"To ensure fans are enjoying the game, not like yesterday," Kucherov said following practice Saturday.

Washington took a 4-0 lead in the first 26:42 of the game, when the Lightning had as many shots on goal as the Capitals had goals. The atmosphere inside Amalie Arena went from crazy to calm. The Lightning were already cooked.

"We want to make it enjoyable for [the fans]," Kucherov said. "They want to see plays, they want to see goals and good saves. That's what we want to do tomorrow. Every night we want to appreciate them for coming and make those little plays. There's a bunch of kids in the stands and some of them want to be hockey players. I want them to talk the next day and say, 'I saw [Steven Stamkos] make this nice play. I want to try it in practice.' We want to make sure they love it and we play the right way."

The right way for the Lightning is a 180 from what they showed in Game 1.

With a night to dwell on it and time to go over the film, the Lightning's feelings about their performance didn't change Saturday. They weren't shy to credit the Capitals for dictating the terms of the game, but they were quick to blame themselves for allowing it to happen.

It started with their forecheck, which was aggressive and fast and helped them win four in a row against the Boston Bruins in the second round. It was slow and ineffective Friday.

"We didn't create a lot of turnovers on the forecheck like we want to do," defenseman Ryan McDonagh said. "For us, we've got to keep them under pressure and it starts with that first forechecker being hard."

The Lightning didn't shoot the puck either. They had two shots on goal in the first period and 10 after two.

"That's why we came in the room and said, 'Oh, we didn't have [scoring] chances,'" Kucherov said. "If you think, though, you can say, 'I had a chance, but I didn't shoot it.' That's what it is. We were a little high. We beat Boston, and Washington came and just slapped us."

Video: WSH@TBL, Gm1: Ovechkin capitalizes on Bolts' miscue

Kucherov called the number of turnovers the Lightning committed unacceptable. They were trying for low-percentage plays, especially through the neutral zone, instead of doing the simple stuff that was effective for them in the first two rounds, including a five-game win against the New Jersey Devils

"All playoffs we've been preaching not turning the puck over and getting pucks in deep and utilizing our speed, utilizing our forecheck," Lightning captain Steven Stamkos said. "We [went] off the game plan."

Tampa Bay also hurt itself with penalties, like a too many men on the ice call that led negated a goal by Kucherov and led to Alex Ovechkin's power-play goal at 19:54 of the first period, and Kucherov's roughing that led to Lars Eller's power-play goal at 6:42 of the second period.

"There were so many good things we've done in two rounds of hockey that I think if you bottled up all the bad things in those first 10 games it would be about half of what we did in that one game last night," Tampa Bay coach Jon Cooper said. "You fueled the fire of a good team, and that's what Washington is."

The Lightning can feel confident knowing they've battled out of this position before. They did it in the second round against the Bruins after losing Game 1 6-2. But that's where the similarities end.

They felt like they were in control in Game 1 against the Bruins, that they had scoring chances and limited Boston's chances, but holes in their coverage and lapses in intensity burned them.

The Lightning never felt like they gave themselves a chance Friday.

"We were definitely a lot sloppier on our end," McDonagh said. "I mean, execution on some passes coming out of our end through the neutral zone, a lot of turnovers, stuff that doesn't give you a good chance of winning games, especially against a team like that who can create on the rush. We gave up a lot of rush chances and odd-man looks, something that we want to correct."

They began the process of fixing what went wrong with a high-pace, high-energy practice Saturday that featured a lot of work on dump-ins, breakouts and special teams.

"We're not dwelling on the negative," Cooper said. "After this practice, the page has been turned."

To Game 2 on Sunday. To making amends. To giving the fans what they want.

"We've got to go out and deserve a win tomorrow," Stamkos said.

The big picture will look a lot better if they do.

 

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