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Lightning not satisfied with split to open series

Tampa Bay knows it must perform better to get past Penguins in Eastern Conference Final

by Dan Rosen @drosennhl / NHL.com Senior Writer

TAMPA -- Experience in the Stanley Cup Playoffs is invaluable. It teaches a player and a team lessons on how to be resilient, how to understand situations and how to properly analyze where you are in the present and what you need to do to get to where you want to go.

For the Tampa Bay Lightning, their experience matters now, because it is allowing them the ability to see the truth two games into the Eastern Conference Final. Without it, the Lightning might be naïve enough to believe splitting those first two games on the road against the Pittsburgh Penguins is good enough.

It's not good enough because they weren't good enough. Getting a win in Game 1 was nice, if also opportunistic. So was having the chance to win Game 2 in overtime. But they didn't win.

"We're going to have to play better to win this series, there's no doubt," Lightning coach Jon Cooper said Tuesday. "We haven't put our best foot forward."

The Lightning have another chance to do that in Game 3 at Amalie Arena on Wednesday (8 p.m. ET; NBCSN, CBC, TVA Sports).

Video: TBL@PIT, Gm2: Crosby goes top-shelf to win it in OT

So far, what they've done is ride some scintillating goaltending from Andrei Vasilevskiy (.940 save percentage), the occasional gaffe by the Penguins (Olli Maatta letting Alex Killorn behind him in Game 1, Brian Dumoulin's offensive zone turnover that led to Jonathan Drouin's goal in Game 1), and some questionable goaltending by Pittsburgh rookie Matt Murray (Drouin's game-tying goal in Game 2) to get to 1-1 in the best-of-7 series.

"I don't think we can honestly say it was our A-game the entire time," center Tyler Johnson said.

It wasn't, at least not if you're judging by what the Lightning did against the Detroit Red Wings and New York Islanders in the first two rounds, when they won each series in five games and dominated most of the time with their puck possession and speed.

They're playing with injuries, most notably to center Steven Stamkos and goalie Ben Bishop, but, to steal a line from Cooper, it's not as if the Lightning got to the conference final by fluke. They earned their way here. Now they have to play better to earn their way back into the Stanley Cup Final.

Video: TBL@PIT, Gm2: Vasilevskiy denies Kunitz's backhander

It starts with their puck management and puck support, because far too often in the first two games the Lightning were the givers, fueling the Penguins' speedy attack with turnovers.

It's not a fluke they were outshot 76-41 in Pittsburgh. It might, however, be somewhat of a fluke they scored five goals, if you believe in the theory Murray belongs in the Conn Smythe Trophy discussion as the best player in the playoffs.

Murray has an .878 save percentage in two games against the Lightning; he combined for a .935 save percentage in nine games against the New York Rangers and Washington Capitals. He has looked shaky at times, so much so Penguins coach Mike Sullivan probably would have turned to Marc-Andre Fleury if Murray allowed a third goal before the third period in Game 2.

Murray didn't, but it's not as if the Lightning tested him or Sullivan's belief in him a great deal. They were outshot 27-13 after the first period, including 16-6 in the third and 3-0 in overtime in Game 2. They were outshot 16-5 in the third period of Game 1, although the Penguins were chasing a two-goal deficit.

Cooper went as far as to admit puck possession, or lack thereof, is a concern for the Lightning, who typically thrive as a puck possession team.

"We have put ourselves in position to have the puck more, but we're not being very smart with how we're playing," Cooper said. "We're not playing as a group of five on the ice. We're in all different segments, playing in different zones, changing when we shouldn't. When you're not in unison, you're not going to have the puck."

Video: TBL@PIT, Gm1: Palat doubles Lightning's lead with PPG

And then there are those times when the Lightning have had the puck and the ability to shoot it, but they simply haven't done so. Defenseman Victor Hedman mentioned that as a problem they have to rectify in Game 3.

"I don't know if you'd call it a concern, but obviously you want to have more shots," Hedman said. "You want to test their goaltender a little bit more. For us, it's all about puck possession. If you don't have the puck it's tough to shoot, but at the same time I think we're passing up opportunities when we have the chance to shoot."

Hedman used the Penguins as an example of what the Lightning should be doing.

"When you shoot, it's going to create scrambles and chaos in their end; that's what they're doing to us," Hedman said. "They had [41] shots and it's not a fluke that [Vasilevskiy] was great keeping us in it, but being outshot two-to-one is not good enough for us. We know that. We have to be better at that [Wednesday]. I think we will be. If we do that I think we'll have more success."

The Lightning can have more success. They've proven themselves as an elite team in the playoffs with a 9-3 record.

"That's as good of a run as we've had in the regular season, so it's pretty tough to be hard on our guys," Cooper said. "But, in saying that, we have to have a better response [Wednesday].

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