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First Round

Lightning must have better mindset for Game 2 against Blue Jackets

Tampa Bay feels it was own worst enemy in blowing three-goal lead in Game 1

by Dan Rosen @drosennhl / NHL.com Senior Writer

BRANDON, Fla. -- Reality check. Wakeup call.

Tampa Bay Lightning forward Alex Killorn used each phrase Thursday, one day after the Tampa Bay Lightning, the best team in the regular season, the best team in 23 years, blew a three-goal first-period lead and lost 4-3 against the Columbus Blue Jackets in Game 1 of the Eastern Conference Final.

Columbus leads the best-of-7 series 1-0, with Game 2 at Amalie Arena on Friday (7 p.m. ET; CNBC, SUN, FS-O, SN360, TVAS).

 

[RELATED: Complete Lightning vs. Blue Jackets series coverage]

 

"We got a little overconfident," Killorn said.

And they got humbled by the Blue Jackets, who scored three goals in the third period, including game-tying shorthanded goal by Josh Anderson with 8:06 remaining and a go-ahead power-play goal by Seth Jones with 5:55 left.

The Lightning hadn't lost a game in which they led by at least three goals since Dec. 18, 2015, a 5-3 loss at the Washington Capitals. It never had happened to them during the Stanley Cup Playoffs.

In the day after dissection of how it happened and why, one theme was clear.

"I actually thought our biggest foe last night was us," Lightning coach Jon Cooper said. "That's what it was. Columbus had no quit in them and good on them. There's a reason that team made the playoffs. But our biggest obstacle was ourselves."

Video: CBJ@TBL, Gm1: Blue Jackets rally to win series opener

It was their mindset more than anything else.

"Our mentality was we wanted to outscore them instead of build the lead and then shut them down," Cooper said. "When you have the mentality that we want to outscore teams, these are the things that can happen. Our mentality has to be, when we get into these situations, to shut a team down, not to pad the lead."

The Lightning tried to throw a knockout punch in Game 1 when they should have tried to win without any theatrics to take command of the series.

They had a 3-0 lead and they should have protected it by making simple, smart plays, like getting the puck deep and going to work on Columbus' defensemen.

It's not about going into shutdown mode, backing up and protecting the net at all costs. It's more just managing the situation.

Killorn said the Lightning subconsciously thought they could score more because the first three goals came relatively easy and pouring it on is what they did a lot in the regular season, when Tampa Bay won a League-high 30 games by three or more goals.

"It can't be that mindset in a playoff atmosphere where it's tough to score goals and momentum shifts can change games so quickly," Killorn said. "We have to be more aware of that and we have to realize we're up 3-0, we don't need to score another goal to win the game. We have to protect that lead."

A glaring example of what they did wrong was the ill-advised play that helped set up the Blue Jackets' first goal, with 10:45 remaining in the second period.

Lightning defenseman Ryan McDonagh, instead of putting the puck behind the Blue Jackets goal line and creating a cycle situation that could have tired the Blue Jackets and potentially led to a scoring chance in the slot, tried a cross-ice pass to defense partner Erik Cernak. Columbus forward Josh Anderson had a good stick in the lane, tipped the pass and center Nick Foligno pounced on it, going in for a breakaway goal to cut the deficit to 3-1.

Video: CBJ@TBL, Gm1: Foligno cashes in on breakaway

"That first goal-against was a perfect example of that, of trying to get the extra one when we didn't need the extra one," Cooper said. "We needed to not give up the next one and we did."

It's yet another lesson that even veteran teams sometimes have to learn how to win in the playoffs.

The Capitals learned it last year after losing the first two games of their Eastern Conference First Round series against the Blue Jackets. They started to talk about how even their skilled players had to play simple instead of creative, about how sometimes chipping the puck off the wall is the smart thing to do when you're protecting a lead.

The Capitals figured it out after Game 2 and won four straight against the Blue Jackets, starting a run that ended with their first Stanley Cup championship. The Lightning could start a similar run Friday if they learn from their mistakes.

"We just want to go back to the way we play, full 60 minutes," Killorn said. "We've had trouble putting together a full 60 minutes together during the season, but we found a way to out-skill [our opponents] in a lot of games. It's much more difficult to do that in the playoffs so it's a little bit of a reality check."

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