TAMPA, Fla. — The effort was good enough for this to be a washout in the Tampa Bay Lightning’s favor, which would have been a fine way to dash the dizzying images of postseason futility from a year ago.
Instead, the Detroit Red Wings put a kink in those plans, the lasting memory of their 3-2 victory in Game 1 on Thursday being young Petr Mrazek’s acrobatics between the pipes, his 44-save magic act at Amalie Arena worthy of Siegfried.
The effort was good enough for the Lightning to leave this postseason game in a much different way than the four lived last year, those defeats woven within so much of the discussion about Tampa Bay’s progress the past six months.
Instead, the Red Wings celebrated as stunned silence settled over a building that was amped in darkness about three hours earlier, with Lightning defenseman Victor Hedman slamming his stick near center ice to capture his team’s mood in a perfect way.
"We came out and played pretty well," Tampa Bay coach Jon Cooper said. "We just didn’t win the game. And that’s the part that sucks, because … it’s the business of winning. It’s not the business of moral victories — we outshot them, ‘good for you.’ Ultimately, Detroit is up 1-0. And they took a game that we wanted."
That’s the bottom line, captured in those final two sentences. Sometimes in hockey, the bottom line becomes an optical illusion, one where the math within it seemingly fails to add up.
Thursday was one of those times.
Make sense of this, Einsteins: The Lightning outshot the Red Wings 46-14, they held Detroit to a measly four scoring chances in the third period, they posted a blistering 36 shots on goal in the final two periods alone … and they still lost.
This was like an MLB team losing after allowing one hit. This was like an NFL team coming up with a single field goal after seven trips to the red zone. This was like an NBA team falling to an opponent who only scored on free throws.
A fast clean-up is required.
Afterward, once the Lightning began to pick up the shattered glass, their dressing room was full of the predictable encouraging words. Center Steven Stamkos called his teammates a resilient bunch. Winger Ryan Callahan said confidence is no issue. Goaltender Ben Bishop didn’t seem particularly down, despite allowing two goals to center Pavel Datsyuk and a third-period shorthanded score by center Luke Glendening that proved to be the difference.
"We’re never going to quit, especially this time of year," Stamkos said. "But we do have to find a way to win games."
"You’ve got to put it behind you and go to the next game," Bishop said. "You obviously watch and see what they did, and you go onto the next one."
That’s Tampa Bay’s task: Find a way to shake this bizarre outcome and flip the next result in its favor Saturday afternoon. Thing is, it’s not hard to believe the Lightning when they say that victories will come if they play like they did Thursday.
After all, reading the postgame stat sheet was like looking into a funhouse mirror: Stamkos (eight) and defenseman Braydon Coburn (seven) outshot the Red Wings by themselves.
So yes, Tampa Bay buzzed near Detroit’s goal for most of the second and third periods. Yes, the Lightning dominated possession. Yes, they were the better team.
Still, this was a kick to the nose after so much anticipation throughout Tampa Bay to start the Stanley Cup Playoffs. Bottom line, the Red Wings were better defensively when it mattered most, a lesson the Lightning would be wise to keep. With help from Mrazek, who made his playoff debut Thursday at a ripe age 23, they became a stone wall against wave after wave of pressure.
"He’s an aggressive goaltender," Tampa Bay center Brian Boyle said. "He’s got some big bodies in front that help pin him in a little bit. So we need to do a better job of getting in front and maybe making life a little bit harder."
Life for the Lightning became a little bit harder after Thursday.
That’s the harsh bottom line, no matter what most of the numbers say.