Lightning unfazed trailing Avalanche in Stanley Cup Final

DENVER (AP) — Minutes after losing Game 1 of the Stanley Cup Finals in overtime, Patrick Maroon scoffed at the idea that it was some kind of gut punch against the Tampa Bay Lightning.

“Two really good teams are going into action,” he said. “This is Game 1. We just need to refocus and be ready for Game 2.”

Few teams in recent NHL history are better at this, which is why the Lightning are unfazed by chasing the Colorado Avalanche. The two-time defending champions have won 11 consecutive series since the start of their remarkable post-season run in 2020; Tampa has lost openers in five of them — including twice this postseason — and the experience has steeled them for situations like this.

“It’s not about riding the wave of a game,” coach Jon Cooper said Thursday. “It’s about getting our feet under us. It is understandable that we are playing against another team. We can’t win the series in one game and (the players were) really good at it.”

The players wasted no time moving on to Game 2 on Saturday night. After all, Tampa Bay roared back from a 3-1 deficit in the first half to level the opener before Andre Burakovsky’s overtime winner. Elements from successful sections of Game 1 can feed into the team’s future tweaks and changes.

“We’ve done a great job of making adjustments after losses so we’ll try to do that,” said captain Steven Stamkos. “The mindset is we’re here to win a series and you don’t know when that’s going to come: four games, five, six, seven. You never know.”

The Lightning have won streaks in all of these combinations for the past three postseasons. But it wasn’t long ago that they were on the wrong side of a stunning defeat.

It’s hard to forget that Tampa Bay was defeated by Columbus in the first round in 2019 after rolling through the rest of the league all season and winning the Presidents’ Trophy with the best overall record. The adjustments, with no panic moves like firing Cooper or breaking the core, paved the way for this run.

The memory of that series and the 11 since that ended with them on the smiling side of the handshake line combine to give the Lightning the perspective they have today.

“That’s the great thing about our group: there aren’t many situations we haven’t been in,” said longtime winger Alex Killorn. “It feels like we’ve seen it all. We’re not worried. We move forward with confidence. But there is definitely still a lot to do.”

That includes figuring out how to slow down the fast-paced Avalanche, who want to turn games into track meetings and use their offensive talent to score goals. Though Colorado hasn’t progressed past Round 2 in the past four years, it also has plenty of playoff experience and knows it can expect a big pushback from the champions in Game 2.

Coach Jared Bednar believes the best way to deal with this is for his team to maintain their style.

“Regardless of how Tampa plays, we have a specific identity that we must play in order to be successful,” Bednar said. “We just learned that over the course of this season. And then for me it’s just about managing those momentum swings.”

Tampa Bay is the first team since Wayne Gretzky’s Edmonton Oilers in the mid-1980s to reach the Finals three straight years and is four wins away from the league’s first three-pointer since the New York Islanders dynasty in the early ’80s. Cooper managed to contain his players’ emotions so well that defender Mikhail Sergachev described the 1-0 deficit as “the usual”.

As unusual as it was for Tampa Bay to trail 2-0 to the New York Rangers in the last round, the Avalanche present a different challenge behind their high-end talent. While the Lightning need to improve their game, ahead Whatever the way they start, their mentality is now their biggest asset.

“It took us some time to commit to that mindset, but we’ve really evolved that over the years,” Cooper said. “Hopefully we can do that in another series and take another step forward.”

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