Lightning refuse to lay down

Justin Cuthbert breaks down Game 3 of the Stanley Cup Final after the Tampa Bay Lightning pulled back a victory on home ice versus the Colorado Avalanche.

Video Transcript

JUSTIN CUTHBERT: Yahoo Sports Hockey Podcast quick hit addition after game three of the Stanley Cup Final, and we have a Stanley Cup Final now because the Tampa Bay Lightning are on the board. They stormed back in game three.

They answered a blowout loss in game two with a blowout loss of their own, winning 6-2 on home ice and continuing that fabulous record at Amalie Arena. The top line did most of the damage. 2 points apiece for Steven Stamkos, Nikita Kucherov, and Andre Palát.

Also had goals from Corey Perry, Anthony Cirelli, Patrick Maroon, and Nick Paul. It was a pretty comprehensive effort, and it was punctuated by a great performance from Andrei Vasilevskiy. Certainly, they needed their goaltender to bounce back in a big way. And after allowing 7, he allowed 2 on 39 shots, which is a pretty good night in the Stanley Cup playoffs and a pretty good night against a team like the Colorado Avalanche. And now I think we can look at the series suddenly after a 7-0 loss for the Lightning as kind of even.

And don't believe me. Just look at the numbers. If you look at 5 on 5 scoring, guess who holds the edge? Somehow, remarkably, it's the Tampa Bay lightning-- 8-7 in 5 on 5 goals. Now, special teams is a different story altogether with the Colorado Avalanche dominating in that regard.

But the advantage they had there is narrowed a little bit because they were up-- I think they had, at one point in this game, 5 power play goals in the series and actually up 1 on Cale Makar's shorthanded goal with the Lightning penalty kill. But the Lightning got a power play goal late to even that up just a little bit making it look a little bit more respectable.

So this series looks like it's tightening, and game four, it's obviously critical. Game four is always very critical in the Stanley Cup playoffs. It's either over, one team has made it basically over and is up 3-1, or it's all tied and we're going the distance perhaps. So the Lightning will have a chance to even things up while Colorado will have the chance to win a game and then bring it home and maybe win the Stanley Cup on home ice.

It seems like all of these possibilities are options now, and it didn't feel like that, at least after game two. Looking at what happened in this game, I think as I mentioned, the top line with the 6 combined points. I feel like they were a little bit more liberated in this game, and that's probably to be expected because they were getting away from some of the more arduous matchups. They saw less of the five man unit that included Nathan MacKinnon and Valeri Nichushkin and Cale Makar and Devon Toews, and they saw more of players like JT Compher and Erik Johnson and a little lower down the lineup where they could do some damage.

I think they still struck against Makar and Toews. I think they scored their nicest goal on a three-on-three transition against those two, breaking them down once again. They did it in game one.

But they had some time against lesser competition. The match-ups went in Jon Cooper's favor a little bit more. I don't know if we're seeing real strict, hard matching, but he wanted Cirelli out there against MacKinnon.

He got that. He got his top line out there against lesser competition. And he just, I guess, threw those middle six or those bottom six lines out there at each other. And it worked out this time in Tampa's favor.

If there was like a major adjustment, it was subtle, if anything, because it wasn't-- other than bringing Brayden Point out of the lineup and elevating Corey Perry and having Nick Paul center that unit, we didn't see much different from Tampa. I think that they just trusted what got them there is what got them three or two Stanley Cups, potentially a third. And they just trusted that that counterpunch would come with the match ups on home ice.

And of course, it did. But if we did see anything that was like at least a pattern, like, we sort of picked up on, oh, they're shooting on the blocker side of Andrei Vasilevskiy. Well, with the Lightning, I'm noticing a little two man game they're playing in the offensive zone in transition.

I think three of the six goals were scored with just, like, little give-and-goes to create space and kind of confuse the Colorado defense. It worked out really, really well. Cirelli scored his goal with a two man game with Pat Maroon. Of course, Stamkos and Palát hooked up with the goal I was talking about earlier.

And then Maroon's goal came on a two man game, a little give and go with Nikita Kucherov to create space. So something that the Lightning seemed to be using when all the talk is what teams are using against the Lightning-- that's at least one thing that maybe Colorado should pick up on. If there is a concern, though, for the Lightning, it's the injuries that could be mounting here.

Of course, Brayden Point didn't play. He returned after missing the entire second and third rounds in game one. Looked OK.

Didn't looked overly bothered by whatever, what is ailing him. It was either a groin or hip or a knee or something in the lower body. But he was ruled out before game three. And as I mentioned, Corey Perry moved up in the lineup.

But adding on to that, Nick Paul and Nikita Kucherov were banged up in this game. Nick Paul scored a goal in the shift that it looked like he was testing out the injury. He did manage to score that goal and stay in the game, but he looked a little bit hobbled at times and maybe like he was dealing something. That's something that the Tampa Bay Lightning are obviously going to have to monitor.

But the Kucherov injury may be more serious. He did stay in the game momentarily after Devon Toews took him down kind of awkwardly accidentally on purpose. Jon Cooper alluded to that.

A lot of the media members after the game were asking about it, insinuating that there was something a little bit malicious there. It looks like it was a little dirty. But the fact of the matter is, Toews drove Kucherov into the ice and boards while he was already on his way down and looked like he injured something in his lower body.

And, of course, Kucherov is immensely important for the Tampa Bay Lightning. He's just the fourth player in history to score 25 or more points in three consecutive postseasons. He managed that mark in this game, and he joins Wayne Gretzky, Bryan Trottier, and Mike Bossy as the only other ones to do that, which is remarkable and maybe something we should be talking about with the Conn Smythe Trophy later on, but let's not get ahead of ourselves.

But Nikita Kucherov is immensely important. They need him, the Tampa Bay Lightning, to be healthy. And if he misses time, I mean, Lightning are getting kind of dangerously thin. Can you win the Stanley Cup, beat the Colorado Avalanche, without Brayden Point and Nikita Kucherov? That seems at least far-fetched.

But they will have a chance with Andrei Vasilevskiy, who rose from the ashes after allowing seven goals in his worst statistical outing of his entire career, 465 games in the regular season and playoffs. He's never given up more than 7. He's giving up 7 once, and he matched that in that game two loss. As I mentioned, 37 saves for him. Started off a little bit shaky.

I didn't know we were getting a different Vasilevskiy early on when Nichushkin scored, and it was called back. And then immediately after that, another one went in from Gabriel Landeskog. Maybe not really his fault, but it went in nonetheless.

But he got better as that game went on, and I guess he's getting better as the series goes on here, which is pretty important. And if there is one big difference between these two teams, it's the quality of their netminders because on the other side, Pavel Francouz had to come in for Darcy Kuemper, who allowed five goals on 13 shots and was removed after that Patrick Maroon goal.

I think there's a decision here for Jared Bednar. It's probably going to be Kemper again. But one thing with Colorado that separates them, I think, from other teams is that the difference between their starter and backup isn't as severe as other teams. So they can make the decision to go from one goaltender to the other maybe more confidently than the others.

Like, it wouldn't even be a consideration for most teams. But when you have kind of a 1A, 1B, or at least in terms of performance, that's how it's shaken down, I think you can actually consider that. And Pavel Francouz was so good when Kemper was unavailable in the second and third rounds for the Colorado Avalanche.

So there might be a decision here because Kemper has never really inspired confidence. He was not good in this game, and the Colorado Avalanche risk being outclassed in the one most important position on the ice, which is goaltending. I did allude earlier to the disallowed goal, and there's a little controversy about that, obviously, with John Cooper waiting about a minute and a half to decide to challenge it.

You know, they say it's a game of inches. It's kind of a game of frames. Like, one frame on the camera can decide whether or not something's on or off side. And I guess that's what happened here. It was the correct call. I do think it was offside.

Bowen Byram didn't keep it in quite quick enough to have that goal stand. But I'm not really worried about the time. Like, it's so important that we just get these calls right in the Stanley Cup playoffs, especially in the Stanley Cup Final.

I would be really annoyed if this happened in the regular season, but I think there should be two different rules or at least protocols when it comes to this in the Stanley Cup playoffs versus the regular season. I think you should have a pitch clock or a challenge clock in the regular season where, OK, it goes in.

The referee blows a whistle. 30 seconds until the drop of the puck. And if the coach doesn't decide between then and that 30 seconds expiring, then the puck gets dropped. I think that should happen in the regular season because you shouldn't be wasting two minutes to make a call and then 15 more minutes put into deciding whether or not the frame is as-- at least they saw it on the ice or where they see it in the video room.

I think that doesn't make much sense in the regular season. But in the playoffs, it makes sense. I almost think they should be sending a challenge flag from inside the boardroom or the NHL offices. Hey, this might be offside.

It shouldn't come down to the coaches, which is something John Cooper actually said despite getting it right in his media availability that maybe he shouldn't be making the call. And I tend to agree with him. I think there should be a challenge option from inside the boardroom. Hey, let's have a look at it if it's really close.

Just like in football, every scoring play is reviewed. I don't think we need every scoring play reviewed in the NHL, but when there's something to look at, I don't know if it should come down to a 50-50 coin flip type of decision which carries the consequence of being down two minutes for delay of game after when really, the referees are delaying the game because they're not getting it started. I think there should be maybe no consequence, maybe two challenges.

I don't even know what it should be. But I feel like coaches need to be more comfortable challenging plays that are close. And if not, the NHL should have some sort of internal system where, hey, we need to take a closer look at this. Let's hold off for a minute and make sure we get the right call because it's the Stanley Cup Final, for God's sake. It's got to be the right call when these games matter so, so much more than they do in the regular season.

A couple of other things-- Corey Perry scored the 6 goal, the insurance or one of the insurance markers for the Tampa Bay Lightning. He became the fourth player-- or the first player, rather, in history to score in a Stanley Cup Final for different teams. That is remarkable.

He's at the top of the potential heartbreak rankings for the Stanley Cup Final. Like, no one will wear it, I don't think, more than him. Maybe Nathan MacKinnon will be broken up, but Corey Perry, if he loses in a third straight Stanley Cup Final at the tail end of his career, that's going to be difficult for him to deal with.

But of course, he continues to chip in and be part of the reason why these teams are going to the Stanley Cup Final. So congratulations to him on the goal and that very cool piece of history. And Patrick Maroon, he continues to chip in as well. He scored in all four series now.

This guy is three wins away from winning a fourth consecutive Stanley Cup, which would be absolutely remarkable-- one of the biggest winners in the salary cap era, at least in terms of individuals. And he's got hands, man. He scored a lot of goals at the junior level and coming up in the NHL. And he can still put the puck in the net as evidenced by his goal which chased Darcy Kuemper in the second period.

I'm glad we got a series. I'm glad we got some decisions now that Colorado needs to make. I'm glad that Tampa has a little bit of more confidence. I think this was a validating victory despite the fact that they're defending two time Stanley Cup champions.

They might have been thinking like they didn't have it until they had this victory. And now I think they're going to have their best effort moving forward as well. We got the two best teams.

The stakes are just as high as they have ever been. And now the intrigue is just a little bit more because we finally and for sure have a series here in the 2022 Stanley Cup Final. We will be back to a recap game four on Wednesday night.

Until then, thanks again for listening to the Yahoo Sportsbook Hockey Podcast and please subscribe on YouTube, Apple, Spotify, all that. It does us a great deal of good. So thanks again, and thanks in advance for that. And we're looking forward to game four of the Stanley Cup Final.

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