Lightning's bounce-back mettle to be tested in Game 2 vs. Leafs

·3 min read

If there's one thing the Tampa Bay Lightning's mini dynasty has been built on, its been resiliency.

In their back-to-back Stanley Cup triumphs in 2020 and 2021, the Lightning were impossible to back into a corner — because stringing together wins against them was simply not an option.

Tampa Bay has won 14 consecutive postseason games after a loss in the last two playoffs. It has outscored the opponent 51-19 in those victories, of which include five to close out an opponent. The Lightning were even better from the standpoint of goal differential in last summer's jaunt to consecutive Stanley Cups, scoring 30 goals to just eight allowed.

"We have a good group in turning the page," Lightning head coach Jon Cooper said simply Wednesday.

While the Lightning have risen to these occasions with total team effort and buy-in, Andrei Vasilevskiy has been the single most powerful force behind this group's bounce-back nature.

The Tampa Bay Lightning will look to bounce back in Game 2 vs. the Maple Leafs. (Photo by Kevin Sousa/NHLI via Getty Images)
The Tampa Bay Lightning will look to bounce back in Game 2 vs. the Maple Leafs. (Photo by Kevin Sousa/NHLI via Getty Images)

The all-world netminder had four straight shutouts in series-clinching games for the Lightning last season alone, including three clean sheets following a loss. He has stopped pucks in those 14 wins after a loss at better than 95 percent.

"The goalie finds a way to get himself dialled in," Cooper said, keeping the secrets close to the vest.

"He's a pretty proud guy."

In 2022, Tampa's sparkling resolve will be tested quickly out of the gate.

The Toronto Maple Leafs handed the Lightning their most lopsided defeat across this dominant postseason window Monday night, hanging five on them in Game 1 in a shutout victory. Losing the first game in a series is not foreign territory for the Lightning, but being outclassed in the manner that they were in the series-opening contest meets that distinction.

Cooper called the performance a "freebie" awarded to Toronto.

That seems to be selling the Leafs short.

But more important than assigning credit in Game 1 when sizing up the two teams ahead of Game 2 is the the Lightning's history of always providing an answer.

This game deserves to be circled with red pen because it should inform us for the remainder of the series. If the Lightning can punch back, why would we be considering the group to be any different? However, if the Maple Leafs can repeat their performance and build the lead that no prior opponent has managed since the Columbus Blues Jackets' shock upset in 2019, then the inevitably of falling from that championship standard seems like much more of a reality for the Lightning.

It's also possible that the Lightning are still that team, even in a loss, but that the Leafs have since surpassed them. Another dominant victory, and the Leafs might prove they are now the team which should have the target on their backs.

Toronto is correct in every effort to downplay the means and the end following Game 1.

But if one game becomes two, and the Lightning fail to provide the answer they have pulled so effortlessly in previous seasons, the seeds of belief and doubt will start to sprout for both the Leafs and Lightning, respectively, if they haven't already.

It seemed imperative before the series started that the Leafs put the Lightning in a position where are they are forced to answer for themselves if they have enough left in the reserve to make the two-month trek for a third consecutive summer.

If they were still, in fact, that team.

With a win Wednesday, and successfully taking two straight off the Lightning for the first time in nine postseason series, the Leafs can have them asking those questions on the flight back to Tampa Bay.

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