The 2016 playoffs so far have been a real snapshot of the Lightning’s entire season. For long stretches of the year the team would either be dominant or incompetent. At the start of the season the Lightning looked lost on the ice, like a team grabbed from the minor leagues and thrown into a professional game against their will. Injuries, slow play, and bad luck forced the Lightning out of the playoffs and if not for the absolutely stellar Ben Bishop, the team likely would have been watching the lottery instead of the Eastern Conference Finals this year.
Now, after losing Ben Bishop early in the Eastern Conference Finals, the Lightning were understandably concerned. Andrei Vasilevskiy has gone far in alleviating some of those fears. Despite going 1-2 in his games, the young Russian goaltender has far and away been the best player for the Lightning on the ice. He has faced a barrage of shots in each game – 40+ in most cases – and has stopped the majority of them. The times the puck got by the goaltender was due to defensive breakdowns and miscommunications from the team in-front of him.
Confidence In Vasilevskiy
For the Lightning goaltending is the one thing they have in spades. Vasilevskiy is every bit as competent a goaltender as Bishop would have been in this series. The team in front of Vasilevskiy; however, has looked like a minor leaguers compared to the Penguins.
It’s more than the missed clearing opportunities, that happens at a near constant rate. It’s more than the horrid power play that is so bad that fans are often unhappy when the Lightning receive the man advantage. Heck, it’s even more than the lopsided shot totals and uneven zone times. It’s just the Lightning look done with this postseason.
It All Stacks Up
The Lightning have been through a lot this year. Between a constant stream of injuries, locker room drama, contract discussions and a roller coaster season will take its’ toll on even the strongest of people. The Lightning have found a way to respond all year, fighting back from a slow start to the years with lengthy win streaks and by relying on depth players to get them through their myriad of injuries. Now, after losing Ben Bishop, the Lightning just look deflated.
Perhaps his injury was the last straw, the final blow that knocked this scrappy team out. Losing Stamkos and Stralman were both tough, but they weren’t devastating. The team still looked and played like the Lightning after those losses. With Bishop out, the team looks different. They are playing slow and scared, as if they are certain that Vasileveskiy can handle a odd man rush. This uncertainty is causing the team to in turn, play worse. In the second period of Game Three, the Lightning had maybe four minutes of time on the attack. They are constantly trying to make the safe play, opening themselves up to the Penguins at the blue line
Not Over Yet, But A Long Way To Go
Being down 2-1 is far from a death sentence. The Lightning have proven resilient in the past, and they are unlikely to go down without a fight. However, after the fiasco that was Game 3 and being thoroughly dominated in Game 2 (despite what the score would say) the Lightning need to re-group. Their young goaltender has given them more than a chance to win in this series. The rest of the team just needs to step up and support him.