Nikita Kucherov was snide and short, but he was right.
What can the Lightning do to get into this series with Columbus?
Win a game.
Every NHL team who came back from a 3-0 deficit — and there aren’t many — will say that’s the key. You can’t win four games in one night, but you can win one.
“I know it’s a cliché,” said Danny Briere, one of the few to have done it. “But you can’t look past the next game. We did a really good job of taking one game at a time.”
The only time Briere felt his 2010 Flyers team waver on the way to a second-round rally against the Bruins was at the start of Game 7. They started to look big picture, to think “we’re about to do this” and lost their composure.
There’s no magic answer. Only four teams have surmounted this 3-0 hole.
They each won Game 4 differently. The 2014 Kings scored early and often on the way to a 6-2 win over the Sharks. The Flyers needed an overtime goal from Simon Gagne to stay alive against the Bruins. The 1975 Islanders beat the Penguins in a lower-scoring 3-1 affair. In 1942, the Maple Leafs traded leads with Detroit and scored the winner with seven minutes left.
Four teams, four methods, with one thing in common.
“Take it one game at a time, say ‘Can we win one game against that team?’ ” said former Flyers goaltender Michael Leighton. “And then go into the next game and say the same thing.”
The Lightning is talking a good game about focusing one game at a time. Everyone said it Monday as the team prepared for Game 4.
Braydon Coburn, the only Lightning player to have mounted this comeback previously, said athletes are accustomed to that really short-term mindset. There’s a general attitude in the Tampa Bay dressing room that they need to put all their focus in one game and go from there.
Coburn, part of the 2010 Flyers, said the Lightning has better players than that team did.
“Not to take anything away from Danny Briere, Chris Pronger and those guys,” he said, “but I think the talent we have in here is more than capable.”
Both Leighton and Briere said the Lightning also needs this: a belief it should win the series.
Briere felt that was the key to not getting overwhelmed. For the Flyers, it was a matter of feeling they had outplayed Boston even in those first three losses.
“This is the most confident crew I’ve ever been around,” Lightning right wing Ryan Callahan said. “Obviously we’re not happy but our confidence is not wavering. We know the task ahead of us is really big but we’re looking at the first period of Game 4 and trying to build from there.”
He feels having the same core for years has helped with that. This team has been through easy wins and heartbreaking losses, both in the regular season and playoffs.
Callahan has faith … now they just need results.
“Everyone has to do their own part,” Leighton said. “If you’re playing at 90 percent, try to get to 95 percent. If each guy elevates his play a little bit, that should improve your chances as a team.”
That means Callahan should continue the physicality he played with Sunday but avoid the penalty. Andrei Vasilevskiy had his best performance of the series in Game 3 but still hasn’t dazzled the way he can. Defensemen can clear the net front without screening Vasilevskiy. Sometimes the little things make the difference in that five percent increase.
And top scorers Steven Stamkos, Nikita Kucherov and Brayden Point — without so much as a point between them in these playoffs — need to produce.
Can the Lightning be the fifth team to come back from a 3-0 deficit?
“Not the way they’ve played the last two games,” Briere said.
But if they play more like the 62-win regular season? Maybe.
Anatomy of a comeback
Only four teams in NHL history have rebounded from a 3-0 series deficit to win the series in seven games. Here’s a look at how the most recent teams — the 2010 Philadelphia Flyers and 2014 Los Angeles Kings — did it.
How they got down: The Flyers lost two close games (both decided by a tie-breaking goal) before getting blown out in Game 3 after taking an early 1-0 lead.
How they came back: The turning point started in Game 3 when Mike Richards checked Boston center David Krejci in open ice, breaking his arm and putting him out for the rest of the series. Hot goaltending was also a key factor as Brian Boucher sustained an MLC injury after an awkward fall in Game 5. Backup goaltender Michael Leighton stepped in to finish the 4-0 shutout in Boston with 14 saves. Simon Gagné notched the winning goal in overtime in Game 4 and finished off the series with a power-play goal with minutes left in Game 7.
Moral of the story: This team was never out of the series and they knew it.
How they got down: The Kings were shut down in demeaning fashion for Games 1 and 2, getting outscored by the Sharks 13-5. Game 3 was another hit for the Kings when San Jose’s Patrick Marleau sent a weak shot past Los Angeles’ Jonathan Quick in overtime, securing a 4-3 win and 3-0 series lead.
How they came back: Game 4 saw a different L.A. when Drew Doughty became the X factor for the Kings. In the final four games, Doughty logged three assists and one goal. San Jose star defenseman Marc-Edouard Vlasic’s injury in Game 5 was another turning point for the Kings. Quick stepped things up in between the posts, notching 30 saves alone in Game 5 and logging more than a .960 save percentage for Games 6 and 7. He also made a crucial glove save in Game 7 on a San Jose power play with the score tied 1-1.
Moral of the story: The goaltending and overall defense certainly made a difference.
Staff writer Mari Faiello contributed to this report.