TAMPA, Fla. — So much for the notion that the Tampa Bay Lightning could run out of gas against the speedy Colorado Avalanche in the Stanley Cup Finals.
It turns out that the team’s recipe for post-season success still works if the two-time defending champions integrate all the ingredients.
Like goalkeeper Andrei Vasilevskiy reversing his usual stingy ways; Steven Stamkos, Nikita Kucherov and Victor Hedman light up the scorers’ list; and a host of lesser-known roleplayers who also contribute offensively and defensively.
The Lightning are still 2-1 behind in the best-of-seven series after rebounding from the most one-sided playoff loss in franchise history to beat the Avalanche in Game 3. Coach Jon Cooper is confident his team is headed in the right direction.
“Perhaps I use this word too often, but there is a recipe for success for us. It doesn’t take a brain surgeon to see what didn’t work for us in games we were blown away at and what worked for us in games we won. A big part of that is managing the puck,” Cooper said.
“(The Avalanche) are a hell of a team. You give them an inch, they take a mile. So you have to take away the centimeters all over the ice. And if it breaks, hope your goalie will be there to save for you. If you make the puck, it goes from there.”
Game 4 takes place Wednesday night at the Amalie Arena, with Colorado looking to come within a win of its first Stanley Cup title since 2001 and Tampa Bay continuing its bid for the NHL’s first treble in almost 40 years.
Two nights after Vasilevskiy scored seven goals in a blowout loss, Vasilevskiy rallied with 37 saves in a 6-2 win on Monday night.
The Lightning’s depth was also an advantage, with six players scoring and a total of 10 appearing on the scorer’s list.
“I know it’s similar to the last series, it was 2-1, but we have yet to win the next one. It’s going to be tough for us when we just sit here and say, ‘Okay, we have one. We’ll be fine tomorrow,'” Cooper said. “Every game gets harder and harder. But the boys, believe them. They knew what to do and they did it. But now we have to do it again.”
Despite the question of who will be the Colorado goaltender, the Avalanche feel they still have the series under control. A Wednesday night win would give them a comfortable 3-1 lead returning to Denver for Game 5 on Friday night.
“If you look at it, we’re still in the driver’s seat. …We knew it was going to be difficult to win both games,” said Avalanche defenseman Erik Johnson. “The way they played at home and the way they reacted after many losses in the playoffs, we knew they would play their best game. … For us to get the split, we’d be sitting pretty well.”
The Avalanche drew goalie Darcy Kuemper after the keeper allowed five goals on 22 shots in Game 3 and replaced him with Pavel Francouz.
Coach Jared Bednar has not said if he will stay with Kuemper as a Game 4 starter.
“That’s a possibility,” Bednar said.
Colorado’s Jack Johnson said the Avalanche have faith in both goalies and are focused on regrouping as a team.
“We will not let anything stop us from achieving our goal. … There is absolutely no reason for us to waver mentally,” said the defender. “Even (Monday night) we did a lot of really good things for good stretches of the game. There is no reason for us to have frustration or depression in our mentality.”