NEW YORK -- Tampa Bay Lightning coach Jon Cooper said Sunday that watching the replay of Game 1 of the Eastern Conference Final made him want to vomit because of how poorly he felt his team played against the New York Rangers.
The Lightning have a chance in Game 2 on Monday at Madison Square Garden (8 p.m. ET; NBCSN, CBC, TVA Sports) to put on a better show and even the best-of-7 series at 1-1 before it shifts to Tampa for Game 3 and 4 later this week.
Here are three keys for the Lightning in Game 2 that, if executed properly, will give them a chance to make their coach feel better and, more importantly, an opportunity to show the Rangers this will be a difficult series.
Below also are three keys for the Rangers that, if executed properly, give them their best chance to move within two wins of their second consecutive trip to the Stanley Cup Final.
1. Believe that they belong and play like it
There has been a lot of talk from the Lightning in this postseason about how everything is a learning experience for them. It's true and it's fair commentary, but it needs to stop now.
The Lightning won two series and gained great experience in doing so, but they're in the Eastern Conference Final. They earned their way here and they should be playing and acting like they belong and they know what's at stake.
They didn't do any of that in Game 1, which Cooper said they played as if it was Game No. 53 in the regular season.
"And we can't play it like that," Cooper said. "So our will has to be stronger. Our determination has to be stronger."
Cooper expects it will be in Game 2.
"I look through the past of this playoffs and think did we get through a really hard Detroit series and then did we exorcise some demons against Montreal and then did we exhale?" Cooper said. "Maybe that's what happened and think, 'OK, we've made it to the final four, let's pat ourselves on the back and have some fun with this,' instead of, 'We've made it to the final four, let's dig our heels in and grind this one out.'
"I'm not saying had we played with more will and determination we would have won the game. But I think we turned this into a six-game series instead of a seven with the way we came out in that game. I can't predict the result but I expect a different team coming from last game."
2. More from Stamkos and his linemates
By his own admission Lightning captain Steven Stamkos did not play well in Game 1, when he had one shot on goal (none at even strength), two total shot attempts (one missed shot) and was a minus-1 in 19:32 of ice time.
"I have to be better," Stamkos said. "Our team has to be better, yeah, but I want to be a guy that can go out there and lead. That's my focus."
Stamkos isn't playing center but he is without question the heartbeat of his line, which also features center Valtteri Filppula and left wing Alex Killorn. They combined for six shots on goal and 10 shot attempts. They were not dangerous at even strength when they were matched against Rangers defensemen Marc Staal and Dan Boyle.
Staal's reach on Stamkos' side made life difficult for the Lightning captain, but he said he has to find his way around it, or at the very least fight through it to be more effective.
"The success that we had in Game 5 and Game 6 last series, we had the puck, we were making plays off the rush, we weren't one and done," Stamkos said. "I think that was a key not only for our line but our entire team last game; there were a lot of one and dones."
3. Get through the neutral zone
One of the Rangers' strengths in Game 1 was defending in the neutral zone. They forced a lot of turnovers with their pressure. Tampa Bay also had several unforced giveaways that led to chances, or at least possession time for New York.
Stamkos said that goes back to a mentality the Lightning need to have, one they had in Game 7 against the Detroit Red Wings in the Eastern Conference First Round and against the Montreal Canadiens in Game 6 of the second round.
"If we're going in there trying to stickhandle and make pretty plays through the neutral zone, the odds in this League are it's not going to work the majority of the time," Stamkos said. "If we can just have a game plan in our head to get pucks in deep like we did in Game 6 and like we did in Game 7 against Detroit ... for whatever reason we didn't have that mentality heading into Game 1 [against the Rangers]. I sure hope it's there [Monday]."
1. Apply pressure in the neutral zone
The Rangers did this well in Game 1. The sequence that led to the winning goal started with a failed odd-man rush that led to another turnover by the Lightning that was forced by Dominic Moore, who scored the goal.
This obviously is important for them to do again in Game 2, but not as much to create outnumbered situations into the offensive zone as it is to slow down Tampa Bay.
The Lightning, like the Rangers, want to play fast and they do that by blasting through the neutral zone. The Lightning did it well enough in the regular season to lead the NHL in goals with 3.16 per game on 29.6 shots on goal per game. They've struggled at times to get through the neutral zone in the playoffs and are averaging 2.5 goals per game on 27.1 shots per game.
"One area where we can help ourselves is if we do a good job in the neutral zone and try to create as many turnovers as we can because they're a fast team," Rangers center Derek Stepan said. "If they can come through the neutral zone with a lot of speed it's going to be very difficult for us. Obviously we have to continue to be good without the puck because this team can score a lot of goals."
2. Cut off the seam pass on the penalty kill
The Rangers' penalty killers knew in the second round that the Washington Capitals' power play was geared toward working the puck around the zone so it would end up on Alex Ovechkin's stick for a one-timer from the left circle. They could make adjustments to it by keeping a close watch on Ovechkin and faceguarding him when they anticipated the pass going in his direction.
The Lightning do things differently on the power play. They zip the puck all over the place and try to find seams through the middle of the zone for a pass. That's how Tyler Johnson found Ondrej Palat for Tampa Bay's power-play goal in Game 1.
"You have to have sticks in the lanes, skates in the lanes," Rangers left wing Rick Nash said. "Watching the video you know they're trying for a lot of seams and it's something that you've got to try to protect. But at the same time you've got to take away their one-timers."
3. Make the odd-man rushes count
Maybe we should forgive the Rangers for not being in sync on their plethora of odd-man rushes in Game 1 considering they didn't have too many of those against the Pittsburgh Penguins or the Capitals. But that doesn't excuse their lack of effectiveness as they continued to get them.
Tampa Bay's turnovers led to a number of odd-man rushes for the Rangers, but they either couldn't connect on their passes or their shots missed the net. Seconds before Moore scored, the Rangers had an odd-man rush but Derick Brassard skated past the puck after Moore left him a drop pass inside the blue line.
Goals for the Rangers obviously are at a premium considering they've scored 26 in 13 playoff games and every game they've played has been a one-goal game, including nine with 2-1 final scores. Odds are they'll get some outnumbered situations in Game 2 simply as a byproduct of the way the Lightning want play and the way the Rangers defend. But they have to make at least one of them count.
"We missed a lot of chances," Brassard said. "We missed the net. There is something about missing some scoring chances but at least if you hit the net you know there are chances for rebounds and stuff like that. We're trying to score more goals and I thought we created a lot of offense, which is a good sign. But at the end of the day we have to put the puck in the net."