BRANDON - Lightning defenseman Brad Lukowich called his team's play in Game 1 of the Stanley Cup final "embarrassing" and "unacceptable."
Teammate Darryl Sydor said, "Everybody was disappointed."
And center Tim Taylor said, "We just didn't have that extra edge."
Whatever the characterization or the causes of the lopsided 4-1 loss, it doesn't change that Game 2 against the Flames tonight at the St. Pete Times Forum is gigantic.
Lose and the Flames build a two games to none lead in the best-of-seven series headed for Calgary. Win and the split is the same as in the East quarterfinals with the Islanders and final with the Flyers.
But this is new territory for Tampa Bay. For the first time this postseason, it lost a series opener, and for the first time, it is behind.
"It's something different we're experiencing now," center Brad Richards said before Wednesday's practice at the Ice Sports Forum. "We've experienced a lot of things in the playoffs, and this is something new. We might as well try to experience everything if we want to win."
Sydor said winning is tonight's only option.
"You've got to dig down deep," he said. "The next game is huge."
But what happened in Game 1?
The Lightning did not cope well with the Flames' aggressive forecheck, commited numerous turnovers and failed to capitalize on some good scoring chances. But players also acknowledged a lack of energy and intensity.
Let's see. Biggest game of their lives, worldwide TV audience, a championship on the line, no energy. Go figure.
"I don't know," Sydor said. "Everybody was disappointed in the way it happened. But we had some opportunities in the second period and battled hard in the third. We have to take a look at the positives and move forward."
One theory was the players simply let down after an emotional Game 7 victory over the Flyers.
"If that's what it takes to wake us up, we'll use it as motivation to win the next game," Richards said.
Flames center Craig Conroy said he wasn't sure if Game 1 created motivation or consternation for Tampa Bay.
"You want to get that first one, move on and give them a little doubt that maybe it's not going to be as easy as you thought, and that's what we've been able to do," he said.
Either way, Flames captain Jarome Iginla said, "We expect it to be a harder game. We've got to match their intensity and desperation."
And continue their Game 1 plan: keep their feet moving, use quickness to create turnovers and finish their checks.
It is nothing the Lightning did not see against the Flyers, who forced several mettle-testing games. The Lightning responded by winning Game 3 in Philly after a 6-2 blowout at the Times Forum and taking Game 7 at home after a staggering overtime loss in Game 6.
"We need a lot more intensity," Taylor said. "We came off a really intense Game 7 and weren't able to get back to the level we needed to play at this time of year. We have to come out and be really ready. We know the task at hand.
"It's a good challenge for our team. We seem to play better under pressure. We'll take it one game at a time, but this next game is very important for us."
"I don't like that "must-win,"' Lightning coach John Tortorella said. "What happens if something doesn't happen the right way for us? What do I come back to my team with? We are not going to go to Calgary because we didn't win that must-win game?
Still, he said, "You have got to figure out a response."
"By all means," Sydor said, "I know we will be ready for Game 2."