The Day – Lightning look to even Stanley Cup Final against Avalanche

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 returning to 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 the inches off everywhere on the ice,” added the coach. “And if it breaks, you 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 defender 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,” Johnson added.

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.”

high score affair

The Avalanche (13) and Lightning (9) have combined 22 goals, making this the highest-scoring Stanley Cup Final in three games since the New York Islanders and Vancouver Canucks, who combined 24 goals in their first three games in 1982.

Kucherov update

Cooper hasn’t ruled out the possibility that Tampa Bay has Kucherov available for Game 4. The Lightning star limped away after counter-checking from Colorado’s Devon Toews in the third period of Game 3.

“The way I’m sitting now I think he can play (Wednesday). But I’m not Kuch,” Cooper said. “But if I know Kuch, he’ll sit there and say the same thing. But let’s see what the doctor says.”

Toews said he plays closely with Kucherov but tries not to hurt him.

“You know, good players have to try to take time and space away from them and that’s what I tried to do,” Toews said. “If he was injured, that’s unfortunate. I’m not trying to hurt anyone.”

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