Tampa Bay got the start they wanted with Anthony Cirelli opening the scoring just 36 seconds into the period. After a wild scramble in front of Darcy Kuemper, the Avs attempted to clear the puck, but Erik Cernak held it in at the blue line and blasted a slap shot from the point. The shot nailed Kuemper in the mask and Cirelli was right on the doorstep to bang home the rebound and put the Bolts up 1-0.
The Lightning went into the first intermission with the lead, but Colorado’s lethal power play appeared on the scoresheet once again with Nathan MacKinnon evening the score at one with 14:43 left in the second period on the man advantage.
The Bolts, as they have throughout the postseason, were able to respond 5:25 later as Victor Hedman darted into the Avalanche zone and snuck a backhand shot to the far post past Kuemper to put Tampa Bay back up by one.
The Lightning went into the third period leading by one and were just 20 minutes away from tying the series at two apiece, but Colorado scored 2:53 into the final frame to even the score at two. Neither team was able to score for the remainder of regulation before the game went to overtime.
With 7:58 remaining in the first overtime, Nazem Kadri jumped onto the ice for MacKinnon, who was still roughly 30 feet away from the bench. Just like that, Kadri took a pass at the Tampa Bay blue line, dashed in, and scored the game-winning goal. It was a missed too many men on the ice penalty, but there was nothing the Lightning could do in that situation as it is not a challengeable play.
Granted, Colorado had hit two posts prior to the Kadri goal and controlled most of the play during overtime, but if that gets called, who knows what happens?
Either way, the result is set in stone and the Bolts have a tall task ahead of them. They will have to win three straight games, two in Colorado, to achieve their ultimate goal. If there’s one team that can do it, it’s the Lightning. Before Game 5, let’s look at three things we learned in Game 4.
1. NOT DONE YET
The Tampa Bay Lightning are a proud group. If there’s one thing you can bet, it’s that the Bolts aren’t going to roll over and quit.
“We have a proud group because that’s why we’re in our third-straight Final,” said Tampa Bay head coach Jon Cooper. “It takes more than talent alone to get where we are and do what this group of players has done. Pride is a big, big part of it, but, listen, we’re still kicking.
“Our pride will kick in again. This group is much more than just a bunch of talented hockey players.”
The Lightning are going to fight until the end. They were down 3-2 against Toronto in Round One and trailed the Rangers 2-0 in the Eastern Conference Final. They’ve faced adversity. This is just another fork in the road for an experienced group.
“We’re still in it,” said Tampa Bay forward Pat Maroon. “Obviously, it’s a tough loss, but the good thing is we’re still playing hockey.
“We haven’t lost yet. It’s the first one to four wins right now. We’ve got a challenge in front of us, but if it’s one team that can do it, it’s this team.”
Regardless of the loss, the Lightning played significantly better in Games 3 and 4 than they did in Games 1 and 2. As series have gone on, the Bolts have consistently improved. They’ve found ways to defend their opponents more effectively and make necessary adjustments.
It’s a tall mountain to climb, but Tampa Bay can do it. It all starts with Game 5. Win that one and get back to home ice.
2. A MISSED CALL
Cooper was very emotional following Game 4 as he stepped to the podium for his media availability. He took one question and his answer ended with, “I’ll speak with you tomorrow. You’re going to see what I mean when you see that goal. My heart breaks for the players because we probably still should be playing. I’ll be available tomorrow.”
A lot of angles have been shown and there’s no denying that a too many men on the ice penalty should have been called. As MacKinnon is coming off the ice for a change, Kadri jumps on the ice with MacKinnon still 30-plus feet away from the Colorado bench. He scored the game-winning goal less than 15 seconds later.
Cooper has a case. With that being said, there’s nothing that can be done now. The game is over and the result will remain the same.
Emotions were high after the game and Cooper spoke to that on Thursday morning.
“They’re reviewing whether the puck’s in the net,” Cooper explained. “The only way I can find out is I have to go back in the room and look at the tape. You do and then you have to face all of you (media) five minutes after an emotional loss, so I apologize for last night.”
Cooper was asked about the emotions of his group ranging from immediately following the loss to Thursday morning. He gave a great, insightful answer.
“Ten minutes after a game, you’re not clicking your heels saying, ‘Oh I can’t wait for 48 hours from now,'” Cooper said. “You do get a little time to digest what just happened because you’re pretty invested. You’re putting your heart and soul, not just in yesterday’s game, you’re putting in nine months of training camp and regular season and playoffs and ups and downs and all the things that go with it.
“Give the guys a little chance to have some emotions then sit here and say, ‘What happened in the game?’
“You know what? Really good chance we could’ve won that game in regulation. We felt pretty damn good about ourselves.
“Did they get the better of us in overtime? There’s no question they did, but this is a game of breaks. Often times you make them and sometimes you get them.
“Colorado’s up 3-1 in this series because they’ve made a lot of breaks, but you look at their goals last night they scored. Neither one of them touched a stick and went in the net. MacKinnon didn’t know where it was. It went off his skate and rolled in. The second one’s going six feet wide and hits Cogliano’s knee.
“But they made their breaks. Good on them. That’s what happens when you make them. The game winner is an unfortunate non-call. That’s how you get breaks.
“Listen, this is the King of getting them. I’ve gotten them on teams I’ve had when we’ve had leads in games or won championships. You get those. But what comes around goes around. Eventually we’ll make ours and we’ll get ours and stuff like that.
“It’s the way the game is, but you can’t pout about it. Turn the page, move on, and let’s go. So the mountain’s a little bit higher, but at least we’re still climbing. We’re not out. 3-1, 3-2 to Toronto, what the hell’s the difference?
“We still have to go on the road and win a hockey game. We were going to have to win a game on the road, regardless. We didn’t have home ice. So, why not tomorrow?”
Should there have been a penalty called? In my opinion, yes. Were there missed calls on both sides? Yes, there were.
With that being said, just because the Avalanche were playing better in overtime doesn’t automatically mean they were going to win the game. Everything could have flipped if that penalty was called.
That’s in the past. There’s nothing the Lightning can do now. They have to turn the page, as they’ve done all postseason, and win a big Game 5 on the road.
3. TURNING THE PAGE
Whether it’s following a big win or a big loss, the Bolts have been excellent at turning the page and moving on. Last night’s loss will be a tough one to forget, but there is nothing else to do at this point. They have to move on and get ready for Game 5. Nothing will change the result of Wednesday night’s game.
“We’ve got some excitement for Game 5,” said Cooper. “Now, my mind’s turning on how to win that. Nothing we can do to turn back. They missed it. It’s unfortunate, but it’s water under the bridge now.
“Should be a hell of a Game 5.”
The physical toll that these players put their bodies through in the playoffs is extremely admirable. But something that sometimes gets forgotten about is the mental toughness.
There are so many highs and lows during a long playoff run. To win a Stanley Cup, there has to be a lot of mental strength. The Lightning have shown that mental toughness time and time again. This will be their biggest test yet.
In each of the Lightning’s last two Stanley Cup wins, they never had their backs against the wall in the Final. Now, they have to win three in a row.
But it all starts with Game 5. They can’t look behind or ahead. The focus has to remain on Friday night, and it will.
“You know it’s a process,” said Tampa Bay defenseman Ryan McDonagh. “The only way to get there is by winning the games that we have in front of us. There’s no other way to put it.”
Adversity rears its head in a lot of different ways, but the Bolts aren’t running away from the challenge.
“I think we feel pretty confident, but like I said, it’s one game at a time here,” said Maroon. “We can’t focus on ahead of us. We’ve got to focus on tomorrow and then after tomorrow, we’ll go from there.”
Looking back on the end of Game 4 doesn’t do much good for anyone. The Lightning have to take the good things they did in that game and apply it to their effort in Game 5. It’s a big challenge ahead for Tampa Bay, but it’s not an impossible one. It all starts on Friday night.