In Game 5 of the Eastern Conference Semifinals, the Tampa Bay Lightning played their best game of the postseason. As a whole, the team played a complete game, taking the lead early and locking out the New York Islanders in route to a 4-0 win. There were many reasons why this was the best game of the postseason for the Lightning, with the biggest being that it was the only time the Lightning played a full 60-minute game.
Lacking A Complete Game
Playing a complete game has been a real issue for the Lightning all year, but it really has come to light in the playoffs. The Lightning will consistently take a period or two to get going or take a period off after having a strong start. Games 4 and 6 of the Eastern Conference Finals are perfect examples of this trend. After taking a 4-0 lead in Game 4, the Lightning stopped playing their game in the third period. This let the Penguins back into the game and almost blew one of the best performances from the Lightning in the Conference Finals. In Game 6, it took the Lightning until the third period to even look ready to play hockey. Before the third they looked flat and unready to play a desperate Penguins team.
Perhaps this is what makes the Lightning so frustrating to watch this year. You can see a real difference between when the team is playing their game and when they are coasting. When the team is disengaged with the game, they become unwatchable. Bad passing, no pressure, zero defensive responsibility and hanging their goaltender out to dry has become a sure sign that the Lightning are no longer playing their game.
Close Out The Period
This is no more apparent than how often the Lightning give up a goal in the last minute of play before the end of a period. Just in the last few games the Lightning have given up two goals in the last minute, one of which the game winner, in a complete breakdown of better judgment. In an attempt to take the game to the locker room, the team instead gave up any momentum they had and made an already difficult battle neigh impossible to overcome.
Now with Game 7 looming, Lightning fans have a lot to be excited and nervous about. If the team decides to come out and play a complete game, they will put themselves squarely in a position to move onto their second straight Stanley Cup Final. If they take even a minute off; however, this Penguins’ team will burn them. Fifty-nine minutes does not make a complete game… and it only takes a second to give up the game-winning goal.
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