TAMPA – The architect of Tampa Bay Find-A-Ways, as some in this stormy, smoky town have called the local hockey club, was recently asked how bleak his triple offer looked on May 12.
The Toronto Maple Leafs had the champions on the ropes in Round 1. The Lightning trailed 3-2 in the series and 3-2 in Game 6. Midway through Period 3.
There was blood in the water. But panic was not in the air.
“My opinion at the time was not so much, it was somber. It was challenging. He presented a great opportunity for us as well,” reflected Lightning General Manager Julien BriseBois, as calm as everyone under his supervision.
“This is how this final will be. Colorado is going to be a big challenge. They are a phenomenal team. They are talented in all positions. They probably have a bunch of all-time greats when all is said and done. They present a formidable challenge to us. At the same time, it’s an incredible opportunity for our guys.”
The Ray returned home after the most one-sided shutout in Cup final history “We could have played for three weeks, and we’re not going to have a [goal]coach Jon Cooper said of the Game 2 blowout) and, for the third time this series, fell behind to the Avalanche.
Give up nine unanswered goals in the championship, and the mood can quickly turn somber.
And yet, this was another chance for resourceful champions to stay the course.
The Bolts got the next one from Anthony Cirelli and another from Ondrej Palat. Finally, after more than 136 minutes, a lead.
A foothold to start out of another deep hole, the third major in four series.
“We knew it was pretty much a game to win,” said captain Steven Stamkos, who set up Palat and shot a spinning beauty himself. “I thought we played like that tonight.”
In handing the Avalanche their worst loss of the postseason, 6-2, the Lightning threw out 10 different skaters on the scoresheet. They chased incumbent Darcy Kuemper and also got to the back of Pavel Francouz.
The Bolts were detailed and direct. Committed in the three zones.
Their standout names executed smart offensive plays, were physical and energetic, and buckled down in their own zone, shutting down opponents 27-12.
“Total team effort. When it’s your turn, it’s your turn. You need to block a shot, there’s not a single person on this team that’s afraid to do that. They will go to the front. You saw [Corey Perry] tonight, almost took one off his face, took off his shoulder. That shows that everyone on this team is willing to do whatever it takes to win,” said Nick Paul.
“Winning hockey is what it is. Limit turnovers, move feet, apply hard on forearms, create loose pucks. And from there, we were able to continue to build momentum.”
Stamkos said the bench held its collective breath in the first period, when Paul went down awkwardly after this push from Josh Manson and limped down the tunnel:
Returning in Period 2, his skating stride was painful to watch, Paul scoring in his first at-bat back.
“It was uplifting,” Cooper said.
“Guys are obviously banged up, especially this time of year, but in true hockey player style, he hangs in there and goes out there and scores the eventual game-winning goal,” Stamkos added.
“You can see how valuable he is to our team and all the little things he does, and obviously he scored a couple of important goals in the final for us. Game 7 in Toronto. He has had great moments in these playoffs.”
After he scored, Paul made another trip to the hallway to be checked out.
But he came back again and ended the game. There was never a doubt in his mind.
“No, I’m sure I’d be back,” Paul said.
Would anyone be surprised now if the Lightning also returned?
“I still think we improved, honestly. I thought that was a very good answer tonight. We have a good team there and we are proud of it,” said Patrick Maroon.
“Play like it’s your last game, right?”
Fox’s Fast 5
• Brayden Point missed more than a month of action with a lower-body injury, playing Games 1 and 2 in Denver. He then he was nowhere to be seen on Monday. His replacement, Riley Nash, skated a team-low 7:01. Cooper said nothing when asked if Point had suffered a setback.
Equally concerning is Nikita Kucherov’s health after this terrifying Devon Toews cross-check:
Cooper was asked what he thought about the check.
“When you’re asked questions like that, you’re looking for an answer that everyone in the building already knows,” the coach replied. “It’s a contact game, but the guys know what they’re doing. Smart, experienced players know what they’re doing with their stick, and we all saw it.”
Updates are expected Tuesday, but forward depth is a concern in Tampa.
• Hello, Nazem Kadri. Do you want to play Game 4?
• Even with the Lightning scoring their first 5-on-4 goal, the special teams battle has been severely lopsided.
Colorado already has five power-play markers and one shorthanded goal. The Av’s speed up the puck and look deadly on almost all men’s perks.
“Special teams are huge, but I think our five-on-five game was a lot better tonight,” Stamkos said. “So we have to be disciplined. They have a great power play.”
• Corey Perry became the first player in NHL history to score a goal in the Stanley Cup Final for four different clubs (Ducks, Stars, Canadiens and Lightning).
• Charles Barkley, a good friend of Cooper’s, told ABC he called Commissioner Gary Bettman directly to secure a pair of Game 3 tickets. Baller.