Lightning’s spirits remain high even with Avalanche one win from Stanley Cup title

TAMPA — Nearly 12 hours after Nazem Kadri’s controversial overtime goal put his team in a 3-1 series gap, Lightning coach Jon Cooper was ready to turn the page in Game 4 of the Stanley Cup Finals.

“The great thing about today is that it’s not yesterday,” Cooper said while speaking to reporters Thursday morning at the Sheltair Aviation TPA Jet Center in Tampa. “And now it’s the excitement for Game 5, and that’s where my mind is spinning.”

Colorado’s 3-2 win Wednesday at the Amalie Arena put the Avalanche in their first NHL championship win since 2001. They will get their first chance to end the series on Friday at the Ball Arena in Denver.

Kadri’s goal just over 12 minutes into overtime could have been nullified and the Lightning awarded a power play if officials on the ice had punished the Avalanche for having too many men on the ice. No call was made, however, and the NHL said in a post-game statement that too many men-on-the-ice calls are not the subject of a video review.

While Cooper said his team wasn’t necessarily clicking their heels 10 minutes after scoring in anticipation of Game 5, time to digest the loss and move on has put the Lightning in a better place with clearer heads.

“We’re not out, and hey, 3-1 (now), 3-2 to Toronto (first round). What the hell is the difference?” said Cooper. “We still have to take to the streets and win a hockey game. We would have to win a game away anyway. We didn’t have home ice cream. So why not (Friday)?”

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It doesn’t take much to keep his players motivated after the emotional loss.

Veteran forward Pat Maroon – who is aiming for his fourth straight trophy – said Cooper’s post-game message was simple: The Lightning are still at it.

“Obviously it’s a tough loss, but the good thing is we’re still playing hockey. We haven’t lost yet,” Maroon said. “It’s the first to have four wins at the moment and we have a bit of a challenge ahead of us. But if there’s one team that can do it, it’s this team, so I think we’re pretty confident.”

The franchise is 1-2 in playoff series having lost three games to one, losing in five games to the Devils in the 2003 second round and to the Senators in the 2006 opening round and the Penguins in seven games in the opening round defeated in 2011.

In 2011, the Lightning lost Game 4 in double overtime before claiming three straight wins, including an 8-2 win in Game 5 in Pittsburgh.

Related: Lightning loses Erik Cernak to Avalanche in overtime

Defenseman Ryan McDonagh, who played the first eight seasons of his career for the Rangers before being traded to the Lightning in 2018, has seen firsthand how a team can fight back against the same series deficit Tampa Bay faces. It’s about breaking up the series and taking one game at a time.

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In 2013-14, the Rangers won Game 1 of the second round against the Penguins before Pittsburgh followed with three straight wins. But New York won Games 5 and 7 en route to the Eastern Conference Finals before losing to the Kings in the Stanley Cup Finals.

Although the big picture is ultimately what matters most, Game 5 takes center stage. Game 6 is nothing to worry about ahead of Friday’s puck drop.

“Yes, in the back of your mind you know the big picture is there, but at the end of that big picture is the ultimate goal, so that’s what you’re always striving for,” McDonagh said. “We know it’s a process and the only way to get there is to win the games we have ahead of us. There is no other way to express it.”

Contact Mari Faiello at mfaiello@tampabay.com. consequences @faiello_mari.

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