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The Lightning are seeking their first Stanley Cup Finals win as the series moves to Tampa for the next two games, beginning with Game 3 tonight at the Amalie Arena.
The Avalanche leads best-of-seven streak with two games to clean.
The Lightning fell behind early in both games, recovering from a two-goal deficit and forcing extra time before falling 4-3 in Game 1 and then overplaying in Game 2 from start to finish in a 7-0 loss became.
Star center Brayden Point, who missed 10 games with a lower body injury before returning for the first two games of the cup final, will be a game-time decision, coach Jon Cooper said.
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Pre-match scouting report
The Lightning seem to understand the problem.
“They’re definitely the fastest team we’ve played against,” captain Steven Stamkos said of the Avalanche after the Bolts lost 7-0 in Game 2 on Saturday. “We have to find a way to slow them down.”
Colorado jumped Tampa Bay from the start in the first two games, building a 3-1, 3-0 lead in the first period with its precheck. That’s part of the problem.
The Lightning are 6-1 this postseason if they score the first goal and 6-6 if they don’t. Colorado’s early deficits forced Tampa Bay to chase games and create more chances, which played right into the hands of the Avs.
The Avalanche were aggressive in the neutral zone, stopping plays, stealing pucks and making quick passes to create odd breaks and quality scoring chances.
Stamkos suggested putting pucks in areas where Tampa Bay can neutralize Colorado’s speed and avoid turnovers that feed the Avs’ transition play. That sounds a lot like dumping and chasing the puck.
It has worked in the past. If the Lightning Pucks can get behind Avalanche defenses and win them back in the corners, they can start their cycle play, putting body and shots into the net, getting into goalie Darcy Kuemper’s line of sight and working to create rebound opportunities.
By maintaining possession in the Colorado zone, Tampa Bay can force the Avalanche’s best offensive players to defend in their own zone and limit their opportunities to play on offense.
Forward Nick Paul said after a 4-3 loss in Game 1 that neutralizing the Avalanche’s speed means getting bodies on their skaters, whether it’s a hard hit or just a shove, and on the ice about to stay with them.
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Having the next two games at home should also help as the latest change allows head coach Jon Cooper to schedule matchups on the ice. We’ve already seen this postseason what lines Brayden Point (vs. Toronto) and Anthony Cirelli (vs. Florida and New York) can do when it comes to stopping an opponent’s top trio.
If all else fails, the Lightning may need to consider speed-to-speed matching.
Cooper seemed reluctant to deviate from the structure that has propelled the Lightnings to wins in their last 11 playoff series, and who can blame him? It’s worked in streak wins over the similarly ranked Maple Leafs and Panthers.
But if this system leaves them too stagnant against the Avalanche, does the Lightning need to unleash their fastest and most creative players?
Do they have to let Point and Victor Hedman skate with the puck? Will more movement and fewer passes result in fewer turnovers? Do they give Nikita Kucherov a little more freedom as a freelancer?
Lightning has the ability to keep up with the avalanche. Is it time to unleash it?
That hasn’t been her MO for the past three postseasons. They’ve won two trophies and put themselves in a position to fight for a third by playing responsibly with the puck, committing to team defense and sticking to their structure.
But somehow they have to find a way to generate more shots in this series. And desperate times sometimes call for desperate measures.
Are we already there? Not yet, but we’re getting closer. We’ll learn a lot more tonight in Game 3.
game night scene
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