NHL: François Gagnon looks back on the Lightning’s journey to this third straight Finals

DENVER — If they have a chance to rewrite history and win the Stanley Cup for a third straight year, the Tampa Bay Lightning players were one loss away from an early elimination against the Maple Leafs in the first round of the playoffs.

You all remember it.

They remember that before they became the great team they are today, they had to draw on their confidence and share of experiences gained through hardship and disappointment.

A third-half goal from Nikita Kucherov to level the game and another from Brayden Point with less than two minutes left in first overtime ended the game 3-3 in the series against a Leafs who didn’t go. never recovered from this setback.

“We were in a one-night stand situation and this win gave us two more months of potential for tomorrow,” philosophized head coach Jon Cooper.

A head coach who also made a whole creed of his players and club, emphasizing they were too good to fall in the first round. A message Steven Stamkos repeated loud and clear in the dressing room.

“Steven came into the dressing room and said our season wasn’t going to end in this sixth game. That we would win and that victory would serve as a springboard for us. That’s exactly what happened,” veteran defenseman Zach Bogosian recalled Tuesday afternoon during the big media draw organized by the NHL.

“Stamer – nickname of Stamkos – is not the captain who constantly yells in the cabin. But when he made that exit, it was noticed. She was understood. It was effective,” commented Bogosian.

Jon Cooper spent the season making sure his players were hungry for a third straight win.

“To win in such a competitive league and in a series where we’re up against very big teams, you have to believe in your abilities. You have to want to win. You have to be willing to make the necessary sacrifices to get better,” said the head coach, who did a lot of persuasion with his players.

“Why do you think it’s so hard to win twice in a row? That so few teams have succeeded? Because it’s so hard to win the first time, it’s normal for players to catch their breath after so much effort. Let her relax a little. To win three times in a row, players had to want it first and foremost. From that moment on, we had to convince them to do everything they could to give themselves a chance to make history.”

The “hardness” of the spirit!

Of course, this team is firmly rooted in the current best goalkeeper in the world in Andrei Vasilevskiy.

Of course, in Victor Hedman they have one of the best defenders in the league and one of the best defensive groups on the circuit.

Of course she counts on Steven Stamkos, Nikita Kucherov, Ondrej Palat, Anthony Cirelli and exceptional support players.

And now Brayden Point, who in many ways is just as good and as important to the team’s success as Kucherov and Stamkos, is coming back into play and contesting the first game given the ease he showed in training on Tuesday.

But this team also benefits from great management, orchestrated by General Manager Julien BriseBois, who spared no effort and was not afraid to make difficult decisions again this year to improve his team throughout the season.

In addition to completing trades that allowed him to add Nick Paul and Brandon Hagel to Corey Perry and French cousin Pierre-Édouard Bellemarre who were hired as free agents last summer, Julien BriseBois made sure his players’ psychological form was maintained with consistent with their physical condition.

“Despite all the playoff games played over the last two years, the physical tests showed that despite the accumulated fatigue, our boys were in just as good shape and sometimes even better than last year,” said BriseBois, the turned to other frontrunners to come to terms with the difficulties of repeating championships.

“We hit a low point at the end of the season when we were out for almost a month. We understood what was happening, but we also had to keep an eye on the situation. And that’s when we understood that staying at the top for a long time is more difficult mentally than physically. NHL players are in top form. You are the elite of the elite. But to get out of the bottom safely, you had to make sure the hunger to win was still there. As Jon previously said, our boys have made so many physical and financial sacrifices to stay in Tampa – while being wooed by other clubs with millions of dollars – that we had to raise whatever funds were necessary to help them keep up that appetite Victory. Every year gives me a headache and I always have the image of our captain brandishing the Stanley Cup as a goal when it’s time to make the decisions that will allow us to achieve that goal,” explained Julien BriseBois.

Therefore, according to his new general manager, the presence of Corey Perry greatly helped the Lightning cause. “He had a tremendous effect on everyone. It’s hard to quantify but Corey has mentored a lot of our young players. He was a resource for our coaches and for me precisely because he is aware of all the necessary sacrifices players have to make in order to win. »

Know how to adapt to win better

In the Stanley Cup Finals, the Lightning must contend with one of the NHL’s great offensive powers. A challenge that Jon Cooper and his team claim to be able to master.

“We beat two of the best offensive teams in the league in Toronto and Florida in the first and second rounds. Rangers were also very dangerous in the Eastern Finals. We know what to expect in the Grand Finals as the Avalanche make a formidable team. The biggest challenge is the lack of experience against them. We don’t see clubs enough in the West to understand them. There are limits to what videos can tell you. There is nothing quite like the experience of playing against each other. But it applies to them just as much as it does to us,” said Jon Cooper, who sees the 2022 playoffs as a challenge, in contrast to the 2020 playoffs, which the Lightning took on to win the first of their two straight cups.

“Two years ago we beat Dallas in the grand finals and beat Columbus, Boston and New York (Islanders) in the first three rounds. These four teams were considered very solid clubs in defence. Regardless of the opponent, no matter what style of play they advocate, you have to adapt and find a way to win four times over,” concluded Jon Cooper.

I can’t wait to see what this finale will offer. Avalanche Lightning begins Wednesday evenings at 8 p.m. EST.

Happy finale!

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