- Greg Wyshynski is ESPN’s senior NHL writer.
DENVER — The Tampa Bay Lightning know their quest for a Stanley Cup three-peat is one loss to the Colorado Avalanche away from ending.
“There are no tomorrows now. Like, this is it, and so there’s no more mulligans. We’ve got to pull this one out,” coach Jon Cooper said ahead of Game 5 of the Stanley Cup Final on Friday in Denver.
The Lightning’s overtime loss in Game 4 gave the Avalanche their 3-1 series lead and the chance to close out the series on home ice. Tampa Bay got the better of play for most of that 3-2 loss, but Colorado took over the game in overtime. The Lightning looked fatigued and beat up, as a handful of players battle injuries.
Forward Alex Killorn said the team draws energy from being in the NHL’s final playoff round.
“You don’t know how many times, if ever, you’re going to be in this situation again. So guys are banged up, guys are bruised and maybe after this is all said and done, mentally we can tell you how draining it was. But right now, we’ve got to win one game, so that’s kind of our perspective,” he said.
Cooper could not rule out any of his injured players for Game 5. Center Brayden Point missed Games 3 and 4 in Tampa with a lower-body injury. Center Anthony Cirelli injured his arm in Game 4 but completed the game. Defenseman Erik Cernak left Game 4 after blocking a shot with his foot, but Cooper said “Cerny is feeling better. I’m pretty confident he’s going to play tonight.”
The Lightning lost both games in Denver to open the series. Game 1 ended in overtime, but Game 2 was a 7-0 blowout loss. Cooper said the altitude in Denver played a role in that second defeat.
“We just weren’t used to it. You kind of get away with it early in Game 1. But think it probably stung us a bit in Game 2,” he said.
The bigger issue for Tampa Bay in Game 5 will be getting to their game and not allowing the Avalanche to establish the pace of play. Cooper said that all comes down to the start of the game. The Avalanche scored multiple goals in the first 10 minutes of both games in Denver. The Lightning helped that along by taking some undisciplined penalties.
“Colorado, they’ve got a great crowd. The energy in the building is awesome. They feed off that first 5 or 10 minutes, and you really have to be engaged in your game. Because then they start getting momentum and, unfortunately, they scored early in these games. So kind of put us on our heels made us chase the game a little bit,” Cooper said. “To me, that’s a pivotal part of tonight, making sure that we’re the ones trying to do some pushing here instead of them against us. Not giving up those early goals, not giving up those, really, power plays that should bode well in our favor.”
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