The Tampa Bay Lightning enter Game 4 of the Stanley Cup Final at Chicago’s United Center with plenty of confidence, having won three of their last four games, including Monday’s Game 3 in Chicago, where the Blackhawks had only lost once during the 2015 Playoffs.
Part of the Lightning’s faith stems from a belief that no matter the circumstances, the team is never out of a game. That belief commenced in the First Round against Detroit, when the Bolts trailed by two goals at Joe Louis Arena and were staring at a three-games-to-one deficit in the opening playoff series but rallied to score twice in the final five minutes and once more in overtime to avert disaster in a game they appeared dead in the water.
Since that improbable comeback, the Lightning have looked at impossible situations as opportunities to do the unthinkable.
“When you start doing those things, it’s that snowball effect,” Lightning head coach Jon Cooper said. “Now we’ve reached a point where we think we can win every single game. It doesn’t matter who goes out there. That slowly builds through the playoffs…They’re a really, really confident group in there.”
The Lightning have excelled most when their backs are against the wall. Having lost two straight to Montreal after jumping out to a three-games-to-none lead in the Second Round series, the Lightning responded with one of their best games of the playoffs, knocking off the Canadiens 4-1 at home to avoid having to play a Game 7 in Montreal.
After failing to close out the Eastern Conference Final at home in Game 6 versus New York, the Bolts faced the prospect of needing a win in Madison Square Garden to advance to the Cup Final, a place where the Rangers were undefeated all time in Game 7s.
The Lightning proceeded to shutout the Rangers 2-0 behind a 22-save effort from goalie Ben Bishop.
And again in the Cup Final, Chicago was 7-1 at the United Center in the postseason prior to Game 3 before the Bolts rallied from a 2-1 deficit in the third period to take a two-games-to-one lead in the best-of-seven series.
“I think it’s been a learning process throughout the whole playoffs,” Lightning defenseman Anton Stralman said. “We’re a pretty young team that hasn’t been in this situation before moving into this playoff and suddenly got challenged each series…Just the way we’re stepping up in those big moments, I think that shows a lot of growth, and I think we believe that nothing is impossible. We can accomplish whatever we want to as long as we stick to the program and make sure we’re executing and following everything.”
The Lightning will need that belief in Game 4, where they expect the Blackhawks to play their best game of the series.
“We have to make sure we prepare ourselves to play our best game of the series,” Stralman said. “Otherwise, we’re not going to be successful.”
Cooper was asked whether there was any status change to goaltender Ben Bishop, who played Game 3 in apparent discomfort but still managed to make 36 saves and spearhead the Bolts’ 3-2 win.
Cooper remained as elusive as ever.
“I think we’re in the same holding pattern as we were 48 hours ago,” he said.
Bishop was asked if he was ready to play tonight and responded: “Same thing (Cooper) said. We’ll see.”
Bishop was forced to exit Game 2 late in the third period for unknown reasons. His ability to play in Game 3 was unconfirmed until he led the Lightning out of the tunnel for pregame warmups.
On Wednesday, Bishop was on the ice for the Bolts’ morning skate and appeared no worse for the wear during the roughly 30-minute long session.
The Lightning benefitted in Game 3 from a pair of goals provided by unlikely sources during the 2015 Playoffs.
Ryan Callahan blistered a shot bar down from the edge of the right circle to give the Lightning the opening goal, Callahan scoring just his second goal of the postseason.
Late in the third with the score tied 2-2, Cedric Paquette tallied the game-winner, redirecting Victor Hedman’s accurate feed past Chicago’s Corey Crawford. Paquette notched his third of the playoffs and second in two games.
The Lightning feel if they can get scoring from their bottom two lines, positive results will follow.
“I think our team, when we’re successful, it’s a collective group of guys working together, working for each other on the ice,” Stralman said. “All of the players in this room are a big part of the puzzle. Everybody has to chip in and do their part, otherwise we’re not going to be successful. Each game it’s different guys stepping up, and I think that gives you a lot of confidence as a group and it gives you that kind of ease in your mind that every time someone’s going to step forward and do the job.”
Cooper said he has no hesitation putting any one of his four lines on the ice against anybody Chicago trots out, especially when all four are rolling like they were in the second and third periods of Game 4.
“If we want to have any chance of hoisting the Stanley Cup, we need more guys to score than just (Tyler Johnson’s) line and (Valtteri Filppula’s) line, and (the secondary lines) are providing that,” Cooper said. “Not only are they providing that, they’re being a little bit of a pain in the butt against, on the defensive side of things, against Chicago. The more we get out of them, the better off we are.”