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Lightning’s Pierre-Edouard Bellemare hopes to make most of return to Stanley Cup final

The veteran forward played in the Cup final with the Golden Knights in 2018 but hasn’t returned since.
Though Pierre-Edouard Bellemare heard from at least eight playoff teams as he entered free agency, signing with the two-time defending Stanley Cup champion Lightning was a no-brainer for the veteran forward.
Though Pierre-Edouard Bellemare heard from at least eight playoff teams as he entered free agency, signing with the two-time defending Stanley Cup champion Lightning was a no-brainer for the veteran forward. [ DIRK SHADD | Times ]
Published Jun. 13|Updated Jun. 14

TAMPA — Pierre-Edouard Bellemare had his choice of teams when it came time to decide where he wanted to continue his career last offseason.

Coming off a second-round playoff ouster following a Presidents’ Trophy-winning season with the Avalanche, the veteran forward heard from multiple playoff teams as he entered free agency.

Though the Lightning weren’t initially in the mix, Bellemare didn’t have to give the idea of playing with the back-to-back Stanley Cup champions much thought.

“I was shocked when they decided to come,” Bellemare said Monday. “It was kind of like ‘OK, you know what? Maybe that’s a sign. Maybe we should just get a change.’ "

Related: No secret what the Lightning want to do; stopping them is another story

So far the change has paid off. Bellemare left Colorado after two seasons and signed a two-year deal with Tampa Bay at an average annual value of $1 million at the start of free agency in July.

Now, he’s facing his former team in the Stanley Cup final.

He also was in the 2018 Cup final with the Golden Knights.

“I’m obviously excited,” Bellemare, 37, said. “You work so hard. When (Vegas) went there … you try to make a point of understanding that this is not something that happens every day, and it took a long time before I even got the honor to be able to compete for it. So I’m going to do the same: try to take it all in and just get the body ready for the biggest war.”

Related: Lightning’s Zach Bogosian celebrates special homecoming with newborn son

When Bellemare learned the Lightning were interested in him, he didn’t feel the need to have a conversation with general manager Julien BriseBois to comprehend the organization’s mentality.

“I understood that that team just won twice and there is no chance that they’re going to back down,” Bellemare said. “So if I can have the privilege to go play for that team, why not try it, right?

“At the end of the day, I am paid to do the best thing I know … and now I’m here. And on top of that, I can choose to go to a team that wants to win the Cup. So I made a decision. And we’re really proud of it.”

In 2017-18, the Golden Knights advanced to the Stanley Cup final in their inaugural season. They made it past the Kings, Sharks and Jets before losing to the Capitals in five games.

The missed opportunity weighed on Bellemare for two weeks after he and his teammates went through the post-series handshake line. Now he uses the memory as motivation.

“When you don’t achieve something that you work so hard for and you’d never thought in your entire life that you could even get a chance to play for it, then you get in there … and then you don’t win it, then you have to go through a phase where you’re, like, pissed and stuff mentally,” Bellemare said.

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“And at that point, the emotion between regrets and being mad and all of it is kind of a big bowl of negativity. So you kind of have to go and swallow it and use that as an anger to be able to move on and to be better, right?”

Related: Lightning advance to third straight Stanley Cup final

Bellemare is one of five players on the Lightning roster who have yet to hoist the Cup, along with Riley Nash, Brian Elliott, Nick Paul and Brandon Hagel. He wants to make the most of every shift, knowing the opportunity may never come again.

“What I experienced in (the 2018 final) was not fun,” Bellemare said, “because it felt like at times you did the right thing but you didn’t get rewarded, and then when you didn’t do the right thing, you got, like, (he makes a ‘whish’ sound and a whipping motion) right away.

“So you understand that every shift could be the deciding factor, pretty much, and enjoy every single moment because it took me a long time to be able to get the opportunity to go back into the Stanley Cup final. And this is the holy grail for all of us.”

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

Schedule

Game 1 – Lightning at Avalanche, 8 p.m. Wednesday

Game 2 - Lightning at Avalanche, 8 p.m. Saturday

Game 3 – Avalanche at Lightning, 8 p.m. Monday

Game 4 – Avalanche at Lightning, 8 p.m. Wednesday, June 22

Game 5 – Lightning at Avalanche, 8 p.m. Friday, June 24 *if necessary

Game 6 – Avalanche at Lightning, 8 p.m. Sunday, June 26 *if necessary

Game 7 – Lightning at Avalanche, 8 p.m. Tuesday, June 28 *if necessary

TV: ABC

Radio: All games 970-AM

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

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