The reigning Stanley Cup winners are in jeopardy.
That’s something that hasn’t been spoken often in recent seasons. The Tampa Bay Lightning were one win away from missing the Stanley Cup final a year ago but won two straight to force a championship match with the Montreal Canadiens on their way to their second Stanley Cup.
Before it, the Columbus Blue Jackets shocked the NHL with a 4-0 sweep in the first round in 2019.
Otherwise, it’s been rather a smooth sailing, so the Lightning is attempting a three-peat. But for it to happen, they must be flawless the rest of the way.
Game 5 was a must-win for Tampa. They led 2-0 after 20 minutes and held the Leafs to four shots and five 5-on-5 attempts through 40 minutes. However, Toronto came back to win the game 4-3, putting Tampa in a must-win position heading back home.
That’s great with the Lightning, who haven’t dropped two consecutive playoff games since 2019. However, the squad they’re pursuing contains Auston Matthews, Mitch Marner, and William Nylander, and when all three are scoring, they’re a difficult unit to stop.
The city of Toronto’s inability to win first-round series has been widely known. However, the Leafs have discovered ways to prosper at 5-on-5, and Tampa Bay has been prone to errors in their zone, allowing the Leafs to come back.
“It’s going to be a tough series. Those guys are terrific,” Tampa Bay Lightning captain Steven Stamkos said. “However, we have a group that has long responded well to these events.”
In the postseason in 2021, the Lightning went 9-1-2 at home. Amalie Arena hosted three of their four series triumphs. So, by all accounts, the odds for Tampa Bay to win Game 6 appear to be in their favor.
“We regroup quickly,” said Victor Hedman, a defender. “Losing two games in a row in the playoffs is never good. We want to bounce back since we’ve been in this scenario so many times.”
The squad has stated that they would take the series one game at a time. They’ve come back from defeat several times. But how about in an elimination situation? This group is less familiar with that.
“We let (Game 5) slip away, and that’s on us,” said coach Jon Cooper. “But we haven’t given up on the series.”
Tampa Bay is the only club that can recover from this position. And, once again, if you’ve followed Toronto’s track record over the last 15 years, you know how difficult it has been for them to complete a series. But Game 5 was a game that the Lightning could have won. They are now the predator pursuing the prey.
And if you paid attention to how the fans at Scotiabank Arena responded to every save by Jack Campbell from the first period on, you know the crowd will be pumped if Game 7 is required on Saturday.
The series is far from over if the Lightning gets their way. That Amalie throng is a crazy group that isn’t going to stop. But they can’t lose another game against Toronto, which implies a journey back to Canada if the club wants to win this series. Fortunately for the Lightning, adversity hasn’t been a major issue over the last three seasons. If the postseason experience is considered a legitimate advantage, this bunch has enough of it.