No worry here: Lightning's best on display en route to Game 2 victory

BY foxsports • April 18, 2015

TAMPA, Fla. -- Confidence spoken, message delivered.

The Tampa Bay Lightning diced the Detroit Red Wings on Saturday in a way that was fitting for their talk Thursday night and Friday afternoon, words that suggested a 1-0 deficit in their Eastern Conference quarterfinals series was as life threatening as a gnat.

Jon Cooper and Steven Stamkos, Tyler Johnson and more treated their loss Thursday as more campfire than five-alarm blaze and, well, after the 5-1 whipping they produced in Game 2 at Amalie Arena, how can you blame them?

The Red Wings played better than they did in Game 1, and they still were popped on the chin. The Red Wings placed more pressure on goaltender Ben Bishop -- they finished with 24 shots Saturday, a 10-shot improvement from Thursday -- and they still left with tire treads on their torso.

There were no magic tricks or optical illusions on this afternoon, instead only black eyes delivered in the form of a decisive Lightning victory that validated their laissez-faire attitude toward the early series hole.

If the Red Wings play better and lose like this, then it's no wonder that the Lightning's confidence never wavered between late Thursday night and Saturday afternoon. If Detroit is beat down after bulking up its offensive execution, then how can the guys in red hope to control this series the rest of the way?

"I just think we played very similar to what we did the other night," Cooper said. "I don't think we really took a step back. I thought Detroit did way better than they did the other night."

He's right on both accounts. That should scare the Red Wings, who saw Johnson buzz near their net and bite them for two goals, one to open scoring in the first period and another to give the Lightning a 4-0 lead late in the second. That should frustrate Detroit coach Mike Babcock, who admitted afterward that his team's offensive push was "way better" despite the blowout. That should comfort the Lightning, who answered the Red Wings' Game 1 robbery by snatching a comfortable Game 2 lead and placing it under lock and key.

This was a replay of a familiar sight here, where the Lightning produced an NHL-best 32 home victories this season. They used speed and precision to rip goaltender Petr Mrazek's recent aura of invincibility. They totaled 30 shots, a slight dip from their 46-shot flood in Game 1, but enough lasers found the net for Mrazek to be pulled at the third period's start after he was on the wrong end of the 4-0 deficit.

"We had confidence in ourselves," Johnson said. "I don't think anybody ever said that they didn't think we can win. So our team, we were just focused on tonight. We wanted to play even better. That has been our mentality all season long -- getting better every single game. I thought tonight was a testament to that."

It sure was, and one thing has become clear after the first two games of this postseason dance: The Red Wings must hope for Bishop to be off, plus they must receive stellar play from Mrazek or Jimmy Howard, for this series to go beyond five games.

The early returns are in, and they're not pretty for Detroit: The Lightning own the better firepower, and more importantly the proper inner-belief, to overwhelm the Red Wings even on days when Babcock's team plays well.

"I don't think anybody was worried after Game 1 about the way we were playing," Bishop said. "Obviously, we weren't happy with the result. But I don't think anybody was really worried that we were doing something drastically wrong."

That feeling can't be spoon-fed in a dressing room hours before the puck drops. That feeling must be developed throughout a grueling regular season, the whole thing a byproduct of players' faith in the ability of those around them.

"We understood if we played the same way, the bounces were eventually going to come," Stamkos said. "I'm not surprised with the effort that we came out with."

It's easy to forget that this was the first playoff victory for Cooper and so many of the young faces who have made the Lightning a legit threat in the Eastern Conference. This team has played older than its age so often this season, and the outcome Saturday was another moment to add to the collection. Frankly, the result felt like business as usual.

Celebration of Tampa Bay's first postseason victory since May 25, 2011, began with about three minutes left in the third period, when much of the packed crowd chanted, "Let's go, Bolts!" When the clock ticked below two minutes, more voices joined in by screaming, "Let's go, Lightning!"

The scene was something many within Tampa Bay's dressing room had imagined, even in the early aftermath of the Game 1 defeat, even after Detroit's victory gave some on the outside pause.

"We were confident that if we keep playing like (Game 1), we're going to win more than we lose," Lightning defenseman Victor Hedman said. "We did the same thing tonight. And it's going to be a battle all the way in. We've got two big games coming up here in Detroit, and it's going to be a lot of fun to play there."

If their confidence remains unshaken, the fun won't stop. Their party may have just begun.

You can follow Andrew Astleford on Twitter @aastleford or email him at aastleford@gmail.com.



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