TAMPA, Fla. — So much for the notion that the Tampa Bay Lightning might be running out of gas against the speedy Colorado Avalanche in the Stanley Cup Final.
Turns out the team’s recipe for postseason success still works when the two-time defending champions incorporate all the ingredients.
Like goaltender Andrei Vasilevskiy reverting his customary stingy ways; Steven Stamkos, Nikita Kucherov, and Victor Hedman lighting up the scoresheet; and a slew of lesser-known role players contributing offensively and defensively, too.
The Lightning still trail the best-of-seven series 2-1 after bouncing back from the most lopsided playoff loss in franchise history to beat the Avalanche in Game 3. Coach Jon Cooper is confident his team is trending in the right direction.
“I probably use this word too often, but there’s a recipe in place for us to have success. It doesn’t take a brain surgeon to see what hasn’t worked for us in games where we’ve gotten blown out and what’s worked for us in the games we’ve won. A big part of it is managing the puck,” Cooper said.
“(The Avalanche) are a hell of a team. You give them an inch, they’ll take a mile. So you have to take away the inches all over the ice,” the coach added. “And if it breaks down you hope your goalie is there to make a save for you. If you manage the puck, it all takes off from there.”
Game 4 is Wednesday night at Amalie Arena, with Colorado looking to move within one victory of its first Stanley Cup title since 2001 and Tampa Bay continuing its bid for the NHL’s first three-peat in nearly 40 years.
Two nights after yielding seven goals in a blowout loss, Vasilevskiy rebounded with 37 saves in a 6-2 victory Monday night.
The Lightning’s depth was an asset, too, with six players scoring goals and a total of 10 showing up on the scoresheet.
“I know it’s similar to the last series, being 2-1, but we still need to win the next one. It’ll be tough on us if we just sat here and said: `OK, we got one. We’re going to be OK tomorrow,’” Cooper said. “Each game gets tougher and tougher. But the guys, give them credit. They knew what they had to do and they did it. But now we have to do it again.”
According to Cooper, injured Lightning center Brayden Point is doubtful to return in Game 4 and is being listed as "day to day."
Kucherov, who left the ice toward the end of Game 3 after a controversial cross-check, is more likely to play.
“As I sit right now, I think he could play (Wednesday), but I’m not Kuch," Cooper said during a Tuesday news conference.
Despite those question marks, Lightning forward Nick Paul says his team remains focused on executing its game plan.
“I think it’s just the same thing as last game," he said. "Game at a time. We come focused, prepared, and worrying about ourselves, you know, worrying about our details, worrying about what makes us successful and what gives us the best chance to win. And it’s just a team effort.”
“It’s another huge game for us. So just come in ready to play and playing for each other and get ready for a battle," he added.
As for the Avalanche, despite questions about who Colorado’s goaltender will be moving forward, the Avs feel they’re still in control of the series. A win Wednesday night would give them a commanding 3-1 lead heading back to Denver for Game 5 on Friday night.
“If you look at it, we are still in the driver’s seat. ...We knew coming in here that it would be tough to win both games,” Avalanche defenseman Erik Johnson said.
“The way they played at home, and the way they responded after a lot of losses in the playoffs, we knew that they were going to come with their best game. ... For us to get the split, we’d be sitting pretty good,” Johnson added.
The Avalanche pulled goalie Darcy Kuemper after the netminder allowed five goals on 22 shots in Game 3, replacing him with Pavel Francouz.
Coach Jared Bednar did not say if he will stick with Kuemper as the starter for Game 4.
“That’s one possibility,” Bednar said.
Colorado’s Jack Johnson said the Avalanche have confidence in both goalies and are focused on regrouping as a team.
“We’re not letting anything deter us from accomplishing our goal. ... There’s no reason for us to waver mentally at all,” the defenseman said. “Even (Monday night), we did a lot of really good things for good stretches of the game. There’s no reason for us to have any frustration or downness in our mentality.”