The Tampa Bay Lightning once again proved they will not be put down quietly, no matter what anyone else may think.
Monday night showcased a Game 3 matchup that was eerily similar to that of Tampa Bay’s response to the New York Rangers after falling behind 2-0 in the Eastern Conference Final just weeks prior.
Having lost both games in Colorado to open the Stanley Cup Final – including that of a 7-0 blowout by the home team – the Bolts responded very well, showing off their veteran leadership and never-say-die, been-there-before attitude by way of a 6-2 victory. Andrei Vasilevskiy rebounded from his worst career playoff outing with 37 saves on 39 shots faced.
“To go through what he went through two nights ago and perform like he did tonight and not only that, but to have them score first and then for the team to respond and back him up, I guess that’s how you get to the places where we’ve been,” Lightning coach Jon Cooper said post-game. “So it was a pretty great effort for everybody.”
The Lightning actually chased Avalanche starting goaltender Darcy Kuemper from the net with their fifth goal of the game during an onslaught of a second period. Pavel Francouz came in in relief, to which he allowed one goal on 10 shots after Kuemper gave up five on 22 shots against.
“There were some things I really liked from our group,” Avalanche coach Jared Bednar said. “It wasn’t consistent enough. The execution and some of the turnovers, we gave up one on an easy turnover, good numbers back and we turned it over and it ended up in the back of our net. They executed quickly on our mistakes.”
Tampa Bay did allow a quick strike from the visitors just 8:19 into the game on a Gabriel Landeskog power play goal. Having successfully challenged what appeared to be a Val Nichushkin marker five minutes in, the Bolts were lucky to only be behind 1-0 midway through the frame.
But they woke up in short order.
“We knew that this was a pretty much a must-win game for us,” team captain Steven Stamkos said. “So I thought we played like it tonight. I thought our attention to detail was a lot better and the game plan, not that it changed too much, but we executed it. So a way better effort for our group.”
Anthony Cirelli and Ondrej Palat scored less than two minutes apart, bringing the home crowd gathered at Amalie Arena to its feet prior to period end, with Tampa taking its first lead of the series into the intermission.
“We just wanted to come out strong and no matter what happened, stick to our plan, stick to the way we know how to play,” Cirelli said. “They got that one there early and we just kept going, kept going. Then, we got those two big goals going into the second and just kept going from there. But it’s only one game.”
Nike Paul – who left the first period injured, returned to the bench and scored almost immediately in the second period. Landeskog answered with another power play tally shortly after, but Tampa put up three-straight before the frame came to a close.
First, it was Stamkos, whose 10th of the postseason put the Bolts back ahead by two. Then, Patrick Maroon went high on Kuemper, effectively ending the starter’s night. Corey Perry added a power play marker later in the period, sealing the deal on the lopsided victory.
“We needed more shot volume and we needed more shot attempts,” Maroon said. “I think when you do that and you work hard and you work hard to reload and you work hard to get on top of them, you’re going to get second and third opportunities, and we did a way better job of that tonight.”
With Game 4 also being played in Tampa Bay, the Lightning will look to replicate the effort they put forth in Game 3, as well as that of Game 4 from the third round, two which they were able to keep the momentum rolling into New York for Game 5, before finishing things off at home in Game 6.
Puck drop is set for 7:00 PM from Amalie Arena on Wednesday. The game can be viewed live on Sportsnet.