Home / Gaming / Two games later, the Lightning are looking like the team to beat – Tampa Bay Times

Two games later, the Lightning are looking like the team to beat – Tampa Bay Times

Now is not the time to psychoanalyze.

To pick at emotional scars or consider deep-seated fears. It’s getting to be Lord Stanley’s hour, and the Lightning’s focus should be between the nets and not between their ears.

But tell me, if you were their therapist, would you call the Lightning cured?

They are two games into this oddest of postseasons, and the Lightning have shown remarkable resilience. They have shown pride, patience, humility and intelligence. They have shown all the attributes they lacked in last year’s brief playoff appearance.

We already knew they had physical skill. This week, we’ve seen their mental strength.

Related: This time, the Lightning do not plan on being pushed around

“I like the way we played,” Tampa Bay coach Jon Cooper said. “You know what? If we’re going to hold the Washington Capitals and the Boston Bruins to two or less goals in a game, I think it’s not a bad effort.”

Yes, the Lightning won another round-robin game Wednesday. They beat the Bruins 3-2, just as they beat the Caps 3-2 in a shootout on Monday. And if you want to be picky, you can complain about the way they blew 2-0 leads in both games.

But here’s another way of looking at it:

Washington and Boston were leading their divisions when the regular season was halted in March. They were the last two Eastern Conference champions. They are the teams that most likely will stand in Tampa Bay’s way by the time September rolls around.

To take it a step farther, the Lightning are now 7-3-1 this season against the Bruins, Caps and Flyers — the three other conference teams that got byes into next week’s opening round — with one game to go against Philadelphia on Saturday.

Tampa Bay Lightning goaltender Andrei Vasilevskiy (88) makes a save against Boston Bruins center Charlie Coyle (13) as Lightning defenseman Ryan McDonagh (27) keeps close during the first period. [ NATHAN DENETTE | Associated Press ]

Is it possible that everything the Lightning has done the past 17 months has created a team ready to peak right now?

“We’re still, if were being honest with ourselves, trying to put together that 60-minute complete game,” said defenseman Ryan McDonagh. “That’s two good teams out there over the last two games. They’re going to counter punch and try to make some things happen.

“You stay persistent, you don’t change your game. We didn’t get too frustrated and in the end our structure and our simplicity paid off.”

In some ways, the journeys have been more impressive than the outcomes this week.

Related: Lightning’s physicality shows once again against Bruins

The Lightning did not look as good offensively against the Bruins as they had against the Caps, but they were more opportunistic. Three goals on Wednesday, and not a highlight shot among them. Each time, it was a rebound or a deflection that ended up going into the net. And that’s the sign of a team that’s willing to stand in front of a goaltender and take the punishment a defense dishes out.

And while they have lost two-goal leads in consecutive games, it has not been because they have gotten too careless or too conservative on offense. It’s simply the grind of trying to protect a lead for 35 minutes or more against a very good opponent.

Sure, there are still some concerns. Andrei Vasilevskiy has played well at times, but has allowed a maddening number of shots to trickle past him after making the initial save. The Capitals scored two goals that way, and the Bruins had another. If not for a last-second McDonagh save, there would have been one more on Wednesday.

The Lightning are also giving up too many penalties, although it’s worth raising an eyebrow when your opponents have been granted eight power plays and you only have two.

Still, the bottom line is Tampa Bay has won its first two round-robin games and is in position to claim the conference’s No. 1 seed. That’s obviously not as important as most seasons, considering all the games are being played in a neutral location.

But, if nothing else, it is a statement that the Lightning are ready to play.

A statement that should mean more to the Lightning themselves than anyone else.

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