TAMPA — All season, the Lightning have thrived on adversity.
So this ought to be in their wheelhouse.
“This is just piling up,” Lightning captain Steven Stamkos said.
Down 0-2 heading for 21,000 people and 42,000 lungs at the Bell Centre.
This time the Canadiens didn’t need overtime. They beat the Lightning, soundly, 4-1 on Friday night at the Forum. It was over well before 60 minutes were up. The Lightning needed a team meeting, called by the players. That’s where it’s at.
Les Habitants completely inhabit this series right now, every bit of it. They have pushed the Bolts around, slowed them up, shut them down. The Lightning look befuddled. They’re frustrated. They have no answers. Neither does their coach.
At the moment, this isn’t a series.
My guess is it won’t ever be one.
This is the 292nd time an NHL team has trailed 2-0 in a playoff series. That team has come back to win the series 37 times, or a little less than 13 percent of the time. Only 15 times has a team that lost the first two games at home come back to win a series.
Granted, one of those teams was the 2003 Lightning, who roared back to beat Washington.
That was then.
This is very much now.
“The odds are against us,” Lightning winger Ryan Callahan said. “It’s a tough place to play. But we stick together in here. We have to go and show our character.”
Friday, the Bolts came out and played Montreal even for a period, but after that it went away.
This is a puck-moving team, armed with speed, and it can’t get the puck or move it, at least not enough.
The Bolts can’t free themselves up. They can’t find a way or the will. And if they can’t do that on home ice, what’s going to happen in Montreal, beginning with Game 3 on Easter night?
“It’s what we’re doing to ourselves,” Stamkos said. “We’re not playing well. We’re not going to sugar coat anything. We have a lot more than these first two games. It’s turnovers, it’s compete level. But we know what’s in here. We now this group. We’re not going to make excuses. We’re going to man up and realize we have more to offer.”
Slowly and surely, this game turned in the second period. A power-play goal early in the period, a deflection of a P.K. Subban shot from the point, which David Desharnais redirected past Anders Lindback. That was large.
Then a breakdown: Lightning winger Richard Panik couldn’t control a puck at the Canadiens’ blue line. Habs winger Thomas Vanek fed ahead to Rene Bourque, in stride, and Bolts defenseman Sami Salo was completely flat-footed. Bourque blew on in, Lindback came out too late, and it was 2-0. That was as much as Carey Price needed.
Of course, long lost Teddy Purcell, who hadn’t scored in 12 games, and who’d gone 19 games without a goal just before that, spoiled Price’s shutout with two minutes left. Great, just what the night needed — a punch line.
Cooper did the latter late in Game 2, throwing in 21-year-old Kristers Gudlevskis after Lindback let in a third goal.
Gudlevskis, poor kid, let one in on the first rush at him.
“We needed a spark,” Cooper said. “As a coach, sometimes you’re grasping for straws at one point, because you’re trying to win the hockey game ... we were looking for a spark.”
There were none.
Suddenly it feels like the brink.
This team has performed well all season when people were trying to push it off a cliff.
“We found a way every time and we expect the same,” Stamkos said.
“We may bend a little, but we’re not going to break,” Cooper said during the last week of the season. “Give us your best shot. OK, we’ll take it, but then we’re going to counterpunch, and it might be one that knocks you out.”
Games 1 and 2 felt like haymakers.
Start the count.