The Lightning Lost Early Last Year. They Came Back Tougher.


EDMONTON, Alberta — As their likelihood to play for the Stanley Cup inches ever nearer, the Tampa Bay Lightning are refusing to be intimidated by the Islanders.

After shedding a hard-hitting Game Three within the N.H.L.’s Eastern Conference finals, Lightning gamers began setting the tone for Sunday’s Game Four throughout warm-ups, jawing with Islanders gamers throughout the center-ice line.

Conversations didn’t cease there, even persevering with whereas the ice was being cleaned throughout a TV timeout halfway by means of the sport.

And when the Islanders robust man Matt Martin fired a protracted shot at Lightning goaltender Andrei Vasilevskiy a millisecond after the horn sounded to finish the primary interval — a comparatively minor offense — defenseman Kevin Shattenkirk chased him down. That incited a melee that led to roughing penalties for the Islanders’ Cal Clutterbuck and Tampa Bay’s Yanni Gourde.

It was a pure development from the Lightning’s 5-Three loss in Game 3, by which Tampa Bay completed with 62 hits — a membership excessive for this postseason and second most of any nonovertime recreation in these playoffs.

“That’s always part of the game plan, is to make it hard on the opponent,” Lightning defenseman Victor Hedman mentioned. “It wasn’t really that we talked too much about it before the game. We know that’s part of our DNA, so you just got to keep that up.”

With their 4-1 win on Sunday, the Lightning are only one win away from clinching the Eastern Conference title. They may shut out the collection in Game 5 on Tuesday night time.

As the Lightning have gone deeper into the playoffs, the workforce has elevated its physicality. That’s a shift in id after a significant disappointment a 12 months in the past.

Last season, the Lightning had been referred to as a talented workforce that scored at will on the way in which to successful the Presidents’ Trophy with 128 factors — a report within the salary-cap period that tied them with the 1995-96 Detroit Red Wings for probably the most wins in an N.H.L. common season.

The Lightning led the league in targets and power-play effectivity that 12 months. Nikita Kucherov was named most respected participant after his 128 factors led the league in scoring, and Vasilevskiy received the Vezina Trophy because the N.H.L.’s high goaltender.

But all that regular-season success amounted to nothing. The Blue Jackets swept Tampa Bay as all 4 N.H.L. division leaders had been eradicated within the first spherical of the 2019 postseason.

This 12 months’s return to play throughout the coronavirus pandemic has been unpredictable. But it has turned out to be an amenable showcase for the league’s high groups. The sixth-seeded Islanders are the one membership remaining from the 16-team qualification spherical that broadened the enjoying subject this summer season.

The Lightning had been seeded second within the convention after round-robin play. They avenged final 12 months’s defeat with a five-game collection win over the Blue Jackets, together with a marathon five-overtime victory in Game 1, after which dispatched the 2020 Presidents’ Trophy-winning Boston Bruins in 5 video games to advance to the convention finals.

Credit…Bruce Bennett/Getty Images

Now they’re one win away from eliminating the Islanders, and so they’ve finished it with out being at full power.

Tampa Bay has been with out Steven Stamkos all through the postseason. Stamkos, the workforce captain and a two-time winner of the Maurice Richard Trophy, missed the final seven video games of the common season with a core muscle harm, then was injured earlier than coaching camp in July, forward of the N.H.L.’s return to play. Lightning Coach Jon Cooper mentioned Monday that whereas Stamkos was presently performing some on-ice rehab work, he was nonetheless not near returning.

In Game 3, the Lightning had been enjoying with out two key forwards. Alex Killorn was serving a one-game suspension for a boarding infraction in opposition to Brock Nelson throughout the first interval of Game 2 and Brayden Point, a number one candidate for the Conn Smythe Trophy because the postseason’s most respected participant, left Game 2 with an harm.

Point didn’t play in Game Three however was again within the lineup for Game Four on Sunday. He had a objective and an help to tie him for the lead in playoff scoring with 25 factors, however spent the final half of the third interval on the bench after showing to be shaken up from a success by Islanders defenseman Adam Pelech.

Part of the technique in Tampa Bay this season was to fill out the roster with extra grit and veteran management — no simple process for a perennial contender at all times bumping in opposition to the salary-cap ceiling as rising younger gamers like Kucherov, Vasilevskiy and Point proceed to warrant large raises whereas they turn into superstars.

The second-year normal supervisor Julien BriseBois navigated the bumpy waters impressively. At the 2019 draft, he freed up $5.25 million in cap area and picked up a first-round draft choose by buying and selling the facility ahead J.T. Miller to the Vancouver Canucks. At the commerce deadline, he swung that choose in a commerce with the Devils for the tenacious depth ahead Blake Coleman, who has mixed successfully within the playoffs on a line with Barclay Goodrow, a fellow trade-deadline acquisition, and middle Yanni Gourde.

BriseBois, who completed second within the voting for the 2020 normal supervisor of the 12 months behind the Islanders’ Lou Lamoriello, additionally efficiently used the Lightning’s standing as a Stanley Cup contender to assist increase his roster with some veteran worth signings.

Credit…Bruce Bennett/Getty Images

Forward Pat Maroon, who received a Stanley Cup along with his hometown St. Louis Blues final June, signed for simply $900,000. After being purchased out of the ultimate two seasons of his four-year, $26.6 million contract with the Rangers final August, Shattenkirk signed a one-year take care of the Lightning, with a cap hit of simply $1.75 million.

Also on the proper facet of the blue line, Zach Bogosian signed in February for a $1.Three million cap hit after he was purchased out by the Buffalo Sabres, and the 30-year-old Luke Schenn was signed to a league-minimum free-agent deal at $700,000.

A frequent wholesome scratch, the bodily Schenn appeared in simply 25 regular-season video games however has now performed eight straight playoff contests after Cooper adjusted his lineup to go along with seven defensemen and 11 forwards following the Lightning’s Game 1 loss in opposition to the Boston Bruins. Since then, Tampa Bay has gone 7-1.

With Hedman and Mikhail Sergachev doing the heavy lifting on the blue line, Shattenkirk has chipped in 9 factors, together with eight at even power, working primarily with the 6-foot-3, 230-pound shutdown defenseman Erik Cernak. Bogosian has slotted in properly on a pairing with Ryan McDonagh as he makes his first profession N.H.L. playoff look at age 30. Schenn has one help and 29 hits, and he dropped the gloves with Martin in Game 2.

“It’s like the chip on the shoulder,” Cooper mentioned. “When the team you’re playing on doesn’t re-sign you for whatever reason, the marriage is over. Players are pretty proud.

“Everybody’s a little ticked off at what’s happened in the past and we feed off that energy together.”

With the Lightning now getting an opportunity to complete the job they’d hoped to finish final season, Maroon can draw on his expertise of a Stanley Cup run in entrance of a rabid fan base in St. Louis to assist him really feel the connection to the faraway followers in Tampa, Fla.

“I know they’re not here in the building,” he mentioned. “I know we’re not playing in our own barn, but they’re cheering us loud and proud. We hear it through social media or whatever it is.

“We’re trying to do something special this year and hopefully we can do it for those fans, because they’ve been waiting for quite some time now. It’s been a pleasure to get all these videos from the fans. We hear you from back in Tampa.”