The back-to-back Stanley Cup champions were overwhelmed by a 7-0 loss in Game 2 at the Ball Arena in Denver on Saturday, and they were down 2-0 in the best-of-7 series.
“This projection of the last game did not please anyone in this locker room”, striker Antoine Cirelli said. “We knew we had to come out strong and have a big rebound game. I thought that was what we did.”
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But Game 3 – and perhaps the series – focused on intuition as well as courage, luck as well as execution, and it showed how fragile trust can be, even for proven winners at the highest level.
The Lightning trailed 2-0, 3-1 in the first period of Game 1, then lost 4-3 in overtime. They fell 3-0 down in the first half of Game 2 and blew themselves up.
Five minutes into the first period of Game 3, the Avalanche forward Valery Nichushkin seemed to put the Lightning behind 1-0. Suddenly, Lightning coach Jon Cooper had a huge decision to make.
Tampa Bay’s video coaches thought the play was offside, but their angle of replay was from the end zone and was unclear. Was there white space between the puck and the blue line? Should Cooper challenge?
If Cooper contested and the video confirmed the goal, the Lightning would take a delay of play penalty, put the Avalanche’s dominating power play on the ice and risk going 2-0 down.
Cooper went with his instincts.
“I don’t know exactly how it all works, but from an end zone perspective, the guys inside were like, ‘I can’t tell if it’s white or if it’s grainy'” , Cooper said. “I’m like, ‘Well, let’s go with the white. And it turned out to be offside.”
Without any goal.
The Lightning fell behind 1-0, anyway, when up front Gabriel Landeskog scored on the power play at 8:19. By then, the Avalanche had scored nine straight goals since winning Game 1 in overtime.
Video: A thunderstorm overtook the Avalanche with a 6-2 win in Game 3
But then Cirelli made an incredible play kicking the puck towards his stick on the run. He cut the goalkeeper Darcy Kuemper and …
“I fumbled around,” Cirelli said.
Cirelli never really shot the puck. But Kuemper was tricked, the puck slipped past him and the game was tied 1-1 at 1:03.
Then forward Ondrej Palat completed a round trip with the center Steven Stamkos at 2:54 p.m., and the Lightning had a 2-1 lead, their first lead of the series.
How essential was that? Well, each team entered the game 6-1 in the Stanley Cup Playoffs as they were leading after the first period.
“I think that settled everything,” Cooper said. “It’s not that our team was in a panic or anything. It just gave you a bit, like, an expiration. ‘OK, we’ve got one.’ …
“The response was exceptional from the group, which we needed, and then the puck started going in the net for us. And so sometimes you need that break, that purpose. We got it and took off from there.
The Lightning took a 5-2 lead, chased Kuemper and extended it to 6-2 later in the second.
Game over. The Lightning cut the Avalanche’s lead to 2-1. Game 4 is here Wednesday (8 p.m. ET; ABC, ESPN+, CBC, SN, TVAS).
It’s easy to say that’s what the Lightning do.
True, they were beaten 5-0 by the Toronto Maple Leafs in Game 1 of the Eastern Conference First Round and bounced back to win 5-3 in Game 2, which they lost 3-2 in this series and have won in seven games. .
True, they lost the first two games to the New York Rangers in the Eastern Conference Finals and were down 2-0 in Game 3, and they came back to win this series in six.
True, Stamkos said after the 7-0 loss in Game 2 on Saturday: “You have to move on, as a team, as a person. Our team are going to do that. Let’s go home in in front of our fans, and let’s see what we’re made of.”
But even the Lightning, with all their courage for the championship, must breathe and believe.
“The first two games we were down early in the game,” Stamkos said. “We were chasing, and it felt like we were chasing the puck the whole game. When you are in the lead, you have more group confidence. , you get your feet under you, and it’s almost like you feel lighter there.
“It was a much better start to the game which gave our group confidence, and when you start to feel that good, you start to see the results, and everything seems to be going your way. I think that was the difference at the start on.”
We will see. This could turn out to be the difference between a short streak and a long one.