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Lightning’s spirits remain high even with Avalanche one win from Stanley Cup title

Tampa Bay is 1-2 in its playoff history when trailing a best-of-seven series three games to one.
Avalanche center Nathan MacKinnon (29), top right circled in red, can be seen returning to the bench with his skate on the ice as Avalanche center Nazem Kadri (91) shoots the puck for the winning goal in overtime of Game 4 Wednesday at Amalie Arena.
Avalanche center Nathan MacKinnon (29), top right circled in red, can be seen returning to the bench with his skate on the ice as Avalanche center Nazem Kadri (91) shoots the puck for the winning goal in overtime of Game 4 Wednesday at Amalie Arena. [ DIRK SHADD | Times ]
Published Jun. 23|Updated Jun. 23

TAMPA — Almost 12 hours after Nazem Kadri’s controversial overtime goal put his team in a 3-1 series hole, Lightning coach Jon Cooper was ready to turn the page on Game 4 of the Stanley Cup final.

“What’s great about today is that it’s not yesterday,” Cooper said while speaking with reporters Thursday morning at the Sheltair Aviation TPA jet center in Tampa. “And now it’s the excitement for Game 5, and that’s where my mind’s turning.”

Colorado’s 3-2 victory Wednesday at Amalie Arena moved the Avalanche within one win of their first NHL championship since 2001. They will get their first chance to end the series Friday at Ball Arena in Denver.

Kadri’s goal just over 12 minutes into overtime could have been nullified and the Lightning awarded a power play had on-ice officials penalized the Avalanche for having too many men on the ice. But no call was made, and the NHL explained in a statement after the game that too-many-men-on-the-ice calls are not subject to video review.

While Cooper said his team wasn’t necessarily clicking its heels 10 minutes after the goal in anticipation of Game 5, having time to digest the loss and move on has put the Lightning in a better spot with clearer heads.

“We’re not out, and hey, 3-1 (now), 3-2 to Toronto (in the first round). What the hell’s the difference?” Cooper said. “We still have to go on the road and win a hockey game. We were going to have to win a game on the road, regardless. We didn’t have home ice. So why not (Friday)?”

Related: Lightning game ends in controversy. And now an era could end in heartbreak

It’s not taking much to keep his players motivated after the emotional loss.

Veteran forward Pat Maroon — who is chasing his fourth consecutive Cup — said Cooper’s message after the game was simple: the Lightning are still in it.

“Obviously, it’s a tough loss, but the good thing is we’re still playing hockey. We haven’t lost yet,” Maroon said. “It’s the first one to get to four wins right now, and we’ve got a little challenge in front of us. But if there’s one team that can do it, it’s this team, so I think we feel pretty confident.”

The franchise is 1-2 in playoff series when down three games to one, losing in five games to the Devils in the 2003 second round and to the Senators in the 2006 opening round, and beating the Penguins in seven games in the 2011 opening round.

In 2011, the Lightning lost Game 4 in double overtime before rallying for three straight wins, including an 8-2 victory in Game 5 in Pittsburgh.

Related: Lightning lose Erik Cernak in overtime loss vs. Avalanche

Defenseman Ryan McDonagh, who played for the Rangers for the first eight seasons of his career before being traded to the Lightning in 2018, has seen first-hand how a team can battle back from the same series deficit Tampa Bay is facing. It’s all about compartmentalizing and taking the series one game at a time.

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In 2013-14, the Rangers won Game 1 of the second round against the Penguins before Pittsburgh followed with three straight wins. But New York won Games 5 and 7 on the road to advance to the Eastern Conference final before falling to the Kings in the Stanley Cup final.

Though the big picture ultimately is what matters most, Game 5 is in the foreground. Game 6 is not something to worry about before puck drop on Friday.

“Yeah, in the back of the mind, you know the big picture is there, but at the end of that big picture is that ultimate goal, so you’re always striving for that, too,” McDonagh said. “We know it’s a process, and the only way to get there is by winning the games that we have in front of us. There’s no other way to put it.”

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

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