If the Lightning want to win, they need to create more chaos

DENVER — The disparity in shot count between Colorado and Tampa Bay in Game 1 of the Stanley Cup Finals was eye-opening and, going forward, likely insurmountable.

The Avalanche shot on goal at a pace that no team has ever maintained in NHL playoff history. At least not the teams that have survived this far into the playoffs.

This is, basically, who the Avs are. They’re a fast-paced, high-volume team that’s averaging 40.5 shots on goal in the playoffs. The Lightning probably won’t match that.

Nor should they try.

Going into Game 2, Tampa Bay just needs to close the gap a bit. The Lightning need to shoot more and pass less. Specifically, they need to put more pressure on Colorado goaltender Darcy Kuemper.

“There’s something to be said for paying attention to the total number of shots, but there’s also a balance in the quality of the shots,” assistant coach Derek Lalonde said. “There were times when we were overtaken by a lot of shots and we always felt like we were in control of the whole game.

“Specifically, for us, Colorado is a fast defensive team, not a heavy defensive team. We want to get net shots to create chaos and shot jams.

What Lalonde is talking about are rebounds. Getting bodies in front of the crease, aiming for the net, then chasing loose pucks if Kuemper doesn’t stop a shot cleanly.

That’s sort of how the Avalanche scored in overtime in Game 1.

JT Compher fired a shot directly in front of the net which Victor Hedman took a knee to block. The puck ricocheted off Valeri Nichushkin, who sent a pass to Andre Burakovsky who buried the winner before Andrei Vasilevskiy could slide left to right.

The unspoken part of this strategy, from Tampa Bay’s perspective, is that Kuemper might be the most vulnerable player on the ice for Colorado. He had strong regular-season numbers for the Avalanche, but was shaky in the playoffs.

Colorado coach Jared Bednar described Kuemper’s performance in Game 1 as “pretty good” on Wednesday night and upgraded it to “a good job” on Friday. Not exactly an exuberant assessment after a win.

And maybe that’s because the lightning didn’t make it work. They had just 23 shots on goal in Game 1, which was their lowest total for the playoffs.

Now, they haven’t necessarily needed a ton of shots in previous rounds – they’re 5-2 in the playoffs when getting under 30 shots on goal – but they probably won’t win much. 2-1 against the top-powered Avalanche. Colorado has only been held to less than two goals once in the playoffs.

Lightning defenseman Ryan McDonagh admitted it was a little unnerving to see Colorado’s speed up close in Game 1.

“I don’t think you can really understand it until you feel it in the first game like that,” McDonagh said. “They definitely have speed throughout their lineup, and they love to attack and chase. They do good reads on when to throw the pucks and when to carry them, so you have to constantly push yourself to get good spreads and force them to get the pucks out of their hands.

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Advanced analytics indicate Colorado had a lot more puck control in 5-on-5 situations Wednesday night, but Lalonde said the Lightning weren’t unhappy with the number of chances they had. That’s what they did with the puck that needs to be adjusted.

“If you don’t throw pucks then you don’t get zone times, they get out of their D zone easier, then they attack us quickly,” Lalonde said. “Obviously that’s something we don’t want.”

After some consideration, head coach Jon Cooper said the Lightning gave up more rushes than they’d like but singled out puck management offensively as the biggest concern.

The Lightning have no interest in a track-meeting style game with the Avalanche. That’s the lesson they learned in 2019 in the first round against Columbus. And, in some ways, they had to relearn it against Toronto in the first round last month.

If Tampa Bay is to win a third straight Stanley Cup, it will be because the Lightning played tight defense and opportunistic offense. They were slightly behind in both categories in Game 1.

“We’ve proven it works for us, we’ve proven it gives us a chance to win,” McDonagh said. “At the end of the day, it will give us a chance to win the series.”

Jean Romano can be reached at [email protected]. Follow @romano_tbtimes.

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