With the opportunity to sweep the Stanley Cup Final and claim a second straight title, the Tampa Bay Lightning potentially could look past Monday’s road clash with the Montreal Canadiens.
After all, even if the Canadiens drum up a victory, it would mean the Lightning could finish the best-of-seven series on home ice two nights later in a full and frenzied home rink. They have a 3-0 lead in the series.
Coach Jon Cooper vowed his team will look to close out the series north of the border.
“I know our mindset is different going into these closeout games. It’s about winning,” Cooper said Sunday. “It’s not about where you win. And that’s all we care about.”
The Lightning, who are looking to complete the first Stanley Cup Final sweep since the Detroit Red Wings beat the Washington Capitals in four games in 1998, have been a dominating team in the series, outscoring the Canadiens by a 14-5 margin and not trailing for a single second.
With an amazing opportunity before them, the Lightning have an advantage from having been through this scenario last year and the benefit of dealing with the biggest of moments.
“This group is very mature in terms of realizing the task at hand,” captain Steven Stamkos said. “We know what the challenge is ahead of us.
“We’re focused on the start of next game. All those other things work themselves out. You never know what’s going to happen in the course of a game or a series.”
Certainly the Lightning know they will face the best the Canadiens have to offer when the hosts look to avoid being swept in the finals for the first time since the Red Wings beat Montreal to claim the championship in 1952. This year’s edition of the Canadiens likely won’t join the 1942 Toronto Maple Leafs as the only team to erase a 3-0 deficit and win the Stanley Cup, but they will give what they can.
“We’re here for a reason,” forward Josh Anderson said. “Obviously, we’ve dug ourselves a little bit of a hole here, but the mood’s light right now and we have a job to do and we’re going to do everything we can to stay in this thing.”
Garnering a win would at least prevent the Lightning from hoisting the Stanley Cup in Montreal.
“We don’t want to see the Lightning win the Stanley Cup at all,” defenseman Jeff Petry said. “You’re not going to win four games by winning one. Our goal is to win Game 4.”
That said, the Canadiens must elevate their game noticeably to extend the series and prevent the Lightning from claiming a third championship in franchise history. They also won in 2004.
“We know the things we need to improve, and we’ve managed to do that before,” coach Dominique Ducharme said. “Tampa Bay deserves credit. They’ve made it tough on us, but we’re aware of the adjustments that need to be made. We know the effect that can have on a game. There are 29 other teams that aren’t playing anymore. Those cities would all love to still see hockey being played. We’re still alive, and we’ll make the most of the chance we have.”
The Lightning are also staring at a great chance. Since the NHL instituted a salary cap for the 2005-06 season, only the Pittsburgh Penguins have won consecutive championships in 2016 and 2017.
“It’s a legacy thing,” Cooper said. “Multiple Cups, it gives you good street cred for the guys, for the organization.”
–Field Level Media