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Analysis | Lightning strike back with a vengeance in Game 3 of Stanley Cup final


Maybe it was because they were playing at sea level, not in the Mile High City.

Maybe it was the proverbial home cooking the Tampa Bay Lightning were able to enjoy after a prolonged trip to Colorado.

Or maybe it’s just that Steve Stamkos and Co. don’t take losing lightly, and quitting is not in their DNA.

But we’ve got ourselves a series, with the Lightning getting back into the Stanley Cup final with a 6-2 win Monday night over the Colorado Avalanche in Game 3 at Amalie Arena.

It really should come as no surprise to anyone who paid any kind attention to the Lightning in these playoffs, or indeed the last two seasons. They are champions for a reason: an innate belief that they’re never out of it, even if they did spot the Avalanche the first two games.

“We’ve got a pretty good leadership core, a group that’s been together for quite some time,” Tampa coach Jon Cooper said of his team after the morning skate. “I think when you go through situations and you’ve been through these spots before, which we have as a group, there’s only a few teams in the league that probably could count their core, even a coach, that’s been together in so many different scenarios.”

Stamkos had a goal and an assist, as did Ondrej Palat, with Nick Paul, Anthony Cirelli, Pat Maroon and Corey Perry also scoring for the Lightning.

Gabriel Landeskog had both goals for the Avalanche, who saw a seven-game road win streak come to an end. Colorado outshot Tampa for the third game in a row, but Andrei Vasilevskiy — the real one, who might be named the Vezina Trophy winner on Tuesday night — showed up after two rough games.

Meanwhile, Tampa chased Colorado starter Darcy Kuemper midway through the second period.

Lead change

While Tampa started better than in Games 1 and 2, it was still Colorado that scored first. Actually twice, though only one counted.

Tampa won an offside review after Valeri Nichushkin appeared to give Colorado a lead. It took Cooper well over a minute to decide whether to review it; that’s about 30 seconds more than coaches usually get. But Tampa continued to self-destruct. When Palat nullified a power play with a high-sticking penalty, Colorado took a 1-0 lead on Landeskog’s tap-in.

To their credit, the Lightning didn’t give up and were rewarded with two quick goals by Cirelli and Palat. When Palat scored, at 14:54 of the first period, Tampa had its first lead of the series.

Captain’s log

Both captains got on the board as Tampa pulled away in the second period. Landeskog scored his second of the game to try to stop Tampa from pulling away, after Paul — battered in the first — made it 3-1 early in the period. But other than that, the second period belonged to Tampa. Stamkos made it 4-2, and Maroon’s goal chased Kuemper. Perry scored on Pavel Francouz — Tampa’s first power-play goal after eight attempts from the start of Game 1 — as Tampa went into the third period up 6-2.

Hurting

Both teams came into the game with injuries necessitating lineup changes.

André Burakovsky, Colorado’s Game 1 overtime hero, left early in Game 2 and did not dress Monday. Nazem Kadri (thumb) remained out for Colorado.

Brayden Point, meanwhile, did not dress for Game 3 against Tampa, replaced by Riley Nash. Point was still feeling the effect of a lower-body injury suffered in Game 7 of the opening round against the Maple Leafs. He missed the next two rounds, but returned for Game 1 of the final. He clearly wasn’t playing to the level he demanded of himself.

Cooper had been asked about whether it was better to play a star struggling through an injury or a lesser player who is completely healthy.

“First and foremost, the players’ health is what is paramount,” said Cooper. “You don’t want to put guys in the position that they are at 70 per cent. I just would rather have someone who is 100 per cent and not thinking about their injury. The game is not worth it to put someone in some sort of risk.

“Now, there are situations where if a player can’t injure himself any more, like it’s a pain thing, now you are probably playing the player. I haven’t had a player yet ever say he was in too much pain I can’t go in, but the big thing is: Can a player reinjure himself? If that is the case, you are walking the delicate line of probably not playing the player.”

Notables

  • Palat has posted at least one point in all nine home games this post-season. He has 13 points during that span, the most among all Tampa skaters.
  • Cale Makar became the seventh defenceman in NHL history to record at least 25 points in a single post-season. He trails only Joe Sakic (34 in 1996), Peter Forsberg (27 in 2002) and Sakic (26 in 2001) for the most in one playoff year by any skater in Avalanche/Nordiques history.

  • Nikita Kucherov recorded his seventh career multi-point game in the Stanley Cup final, passing Sidney Crosby and Patrick Kane (both with six) for the most among active players.

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