Victor Hedman and Brayden Point appeared unemotional, as if they were detached from the final score as they assessed the Tampa Bay Lightning performance in a 3-2 overtime loss to the Carolina Hurricanes in Game 3 of the Stanley Cup Second Round on Thursday.
“We were pushing the play, we were a lot better offensively, winning our battles, taking it hard to the net and creating some havoc,” said Hedman, the Lightning defenseman. “There’s a lot of things we did well, it just didn’t go our way tonight.”
Center Jordan Staal scored a power-play goal at 5:57 of overtime to give the Hurricanes the win at Amalie Arena in Tampa, Florida. The Lightning lead the best-of-7 series going into Game 4 at home Saturday (4 p.m. ET; USA, SN, TVAS).
Tampa Bay was one shot from putting Carolina on the brink of elimination.
If the Lightning are worried they didn’t get it done, then they’ve got some of the greatest poker faces in the NHL, because there was nary a sign of concern, including from coach Jon Cooper, as composed and dispassionate about the loss as Hedman and Point, a center.
“We had our chances, we can’t complain,” Cooper said. “Can’t sit here and say our power play didn’t come up big. They scored two big goals for us. They just got the last one.
“We did pretty much everything we wanted to do except get one more goal than them. So come back with that effort again and again and again. Can’t ask for more.”
Experience has taught Tampa Bay an emotional response in these situations isn’t necessary, and can be detrimental.
The Lightning won the first two games of the first round against the Florida Panthers, lost Game 3 in overtime, then rebounded to win Game 4 and eventually the series in six games. Tampa Bay defeated the New York Islanders in similar fashion in the Eastern Conference Final last season.
“I think it might be different if we felt like we didn’t play a good game and they won, but for the most part we’re pretty happy with the way we played,” Point said. “Obviously, there are things we can clean up, things to watch and hopefully do better at next game. But I liked our game, I liked our compete.”
The Lightning’s two power-play goals were scored 7:21 apart in the second period and tied the game 2-2; the first was from Point at 8:57 and the second was from forward Alex Killorn at 16:18. They came after the Hurricanes scored two goals in the first 7:40 of the period.
The Tampa Bay power play that struggled with breakouts and was prone to turnovers against the aggressive Carolina penalty kill in Games 1 and 2 looked as lethal as it did in the first round against the Florida Panthers, when it was 8-for-20 (40.0 percent).
“We executed our breakouts,” Hedman said. “We did some unreal plays in the zone. We got set up and we put together some passing plays and we were able to find some soft spots. That’s what was clicking for us today.”
The Lightning could have won the game on the power play when Hurricanes defenseman Dougie Hamilton went to the box with 1:08 left in the third period for tripping Killorn. They had five shots on goal, Grade-A chances, but couldn’t get one by goalie Petr Mrazek.
The irony is that forward Nikita Kucherov was in the box for holding Carolina forward Martin Necas‘ stick when Staal scored in overtime.
“We had our chance, we didn’t score on ours; they had theirs, they capitalized,” Point said. “That’s what it comes down to. Our [penalty kill] has been so good this year and this playoffs, but they score on theirs, we miss on ours. That’s how it goes. On to the next one.”
The Lightning outshot the Hurricanes 37-27, including 30-24 at even strength. They had the puck more than they did in Games 1 and 2, each a 2-1 win, because they forechecked better than they did in either game.
“We just have to keep leaning on them,” Cooper said. “I felt we got stronger.”
Cooper said Tampa Bay has gotten better as the series has progressed, and Game 3 was its best even though it lost.
It’s a good sign for Game 4.
“The playoffs are a big [darn] roller coaster,” Cooper said. “You can’t get too excited when you’re high, you can’t get too low when it’s low, and you’ve just got to keep trusting your process. Our guys have done a [heck] of a job doing that and I expect they’ll do it again.”