TAMPA — In a game in which the Lightning needed to push, they delivered a shove, preserving their Stanley Cup title hopes. And from the looks of Game 3 of the Stanley Cup final, they have their mojo back in the nick of time.
The Lightning secured their first win in the Cup final, defeating the Avalanche 6-2 on Monday at Amalie Arena. Colorado has a 2-1 lead in the series.
“These guys are a hell of a team,” Lightning coach Jon Cooper said of the Avalanche. “You give them an inch, they’ll take a mile. So you have to take away the inches all over the ice.”
On Monday, the Lightning’s pace and speed matched what Colorado showed in the first two games. Tampa Bay found some momentum in the opening five minutes but nearly lost it on a Colorado goal. The Lightning challenged forward Valeri Nichushkin’s score for offside; the goal was disallowed after video review.
The Lightning had some breathing room for a moment, but forward Ondrej Palat’s high-sticking penalty proved costly. Avalanche forward Gabriel Landeskog poked a rebound past goaltender Andrei Vasilevskiy for a 1-0 lead 8:19 into the game.
The Lightning didn’t need long to answer, though. Forward Anthony Cirelli took the puck end to end after receiving a pass from defenseman Zach Bogosian. Cirelli continued in front of the Colorado crease and backhanded the puck past goaltender Darcy Kuemper to tie the score at 1 with 6:57 remaining in the period.
The floodgates opened in the second period for the Lightning. Forwards Nick Paul, Steven Stamkos, Pat Maroon and Corey Perry scored, giving them a comfortable cushion. The Lightning logged 14 shots on goal during the period, their most in a period in the series.
The Avalanche’s other goal came in the second, from Landeskog on a power play to make it 3-2 before the Lightning charged further ahead.
“I thought … the turning point for us in the game was we had to get the next (goal after Landeskog’s first-period goal), and we did, and then we got the next one,” Cooper said. “I think that just settled everything down, not that our team was in (a) panic or anything. It just gave you a little bit of exhale, like, ‘OK we got one.’
“The response was outstanding by the group, which we needed, and then pucks start going in the net for us. So sometimes you need that break, that goal, and we got them and took off from there.”
By the end, 10 Lightning skaters had found the score sheet and each line had contributed at least one goal. The win was a testament to their will, as Paul and forward Nikita Kucherov left for the dressing room during the game.
Paul scored after he returned from what he called “hitting the funny bone” late in the first period and said he was fine. Kucherov exited in the third period after a hit by Colorado defenseman Devon Toews and didn’t return. Cooper didn’t have an update on him.
“That’s what you need in the playoffs. We need contributions from everyone,” defenseman Victor Hedman said. “We responded well even though (the Avalanche) scored the first goal.”
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The first two games of the series saw sides of the Lightning that Stamkos said weren’t indicative of how they play, which made the Game 3 response all the more important.
“It is not a true elimination game, but this group was in this position last round (down 2-0 to the Rangers in the Eastern Conference final) and coming home, we knew it was pretty much a must-win game for us. So I thought we played like it (Monday)” Stamkos said. “Our attention to detail was a lot better, and the game plan, not that it changed too much, but we executed it. Way better effort from our group, and we knew coming home in front of our fans it was going to be a little different, and it was.”
The execution was better. The Lightning’s puck possession limited odd-man rushes on goalie Andrei Vasilevskiy (37 saves), and 5-on-5 play was critical for scoring.
“We found a way to respond, and that’s the key,” Stamkos said. “Anyway you want to slice it, it’s 2-1 right now with another home game for our group … so it’s going to be a challenge. (The Avalanche are) going to respond now, and we’ve seen this before with teams. And there’s going to be areas we need to improve in.”
It’s why the Lightning tempered their emotions after the win.
“It was huge of us to get the win, but … it’s only one game,” Cirelli said. “We know they’re going to come out even harder the next game, and we have to be able to come in harder. … (Today) when we wake up … we need to focus on Game 4.”
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