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NHL: François Gagnon retraces the Lightning’s journey to this third consecutive final

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DENVER – If they have the chance to rewrite history and lift the Stanley Cup for the third consecutive year, the Tampa Bay Lightning players have been one defeat from early elimination at the hands of the Maple Leafs, first round of the playoffs.

Everyone remembers it.

They remember having to draw on their trust and their share of experience gained through hardships and disappointments before becoming the great team they form today.

A goal from Nikita Kucherov to equalize the game in the third period and another from Brayden Point, less than two minutes before the end of the first half of extra time, drew 3-3 in the series against a Leafs who did not go. never recovered from this setback.

“We were in a one-night stand and this win gave us another two months of potential tomorrow,” coach Jon Cooper philosophized.

A coach who had also offered a whole profession of faith towards his players and his club by pointing out that they were too good to fall in the first round. A message that Steven Stamkos repeated loud and clear in the locker room.

“Steven walked into the locker room and said our season wasn’t going to end in this sixth game. That we would win it and that this victory would serve as a springboard for us. That’s exactly what happened, ”veteran defender Zach Bogosian recalled Tuesday afternoon during the major NHL-orchestrated media lottery.

“Stamer – Stamkos’ nickname – is not the kind of captain who screams constantly in the locker room. But when he made this out, he was noticed. It had happened. He was effective, “Bogosian commented.

As for Jon Cooper, he spent the season making sure his players were hungry for a third straight win.

“To win in such a competitive championship and in a series that pitted us against very big teams, you have to believe in your abilities. You have to want to win. You have to be ready to make the necessary sacrifices to be better, “said the manager, who has done a lot of persuasion work with his players.

“Why do you think it’s so difficult to win twice in a row? That so few teams have managed to do it? Because it is so difficult to win the first time that it is normal for players to catch their breath after so much effort. Let them relax a bit. To win three times in a row, first of all, the players had to want it. From that moment on we had to convince them to keep giving everything to give themselves the chance to make history “, continued the Lightning technician.

The “hardness” of the mind!

Of course, this team is firmly anchored in the best goalkeeper in the world right now, Andrei Vasilevskiy.

They obviously have one of the best defenders in the league, Victor Hedman, and one of the best defense groups on the circuit.

He obviously counts on Steven Stamkos, Nikita Kucherov, Ondrej Palat, Anthony Cirelli and exceptional support players.

And now Brayden Point, who in many ways is as good and important to the team’s success as Kucherov and Stamkos are, is about to return to the pitch to play the first game in light of the ease he showed in training on Tuesday.

But this team also benefits from the great management orchestrated by general manager Julien BriseBois, who spared no effort and was not afraid to make difficult decisions to improve his team this year again during the season.

In addition to closing exchanges that allowed him to add Nick Paul and Brandon Hagel to Corey Perry and his French cousin Pierre-Édouard Bellemarre hired as a free agent last summer, Julien BriseBois made sure his players’ psychological form was in tune with their physical form.

“Despite all the playoff games played in the past two years, physical tests showed that our boys were in good shape and sometimes even better than last year despite the accumulated fatigue,” said BriseBois, who reached out to other leaders for deal with the difficulties of repeating championships.

“We hit a low point at the end of the season when we spent nearly a month on the road. We understood what was happening, but we also had to keep an eye on the situation. And that’s when we realized that it’s more difficult psychologically than physically to stay at the top for a long time. The NHL players are in excellent shape. They are the elite of the elite. But to be sure you got out of the trough, you had to make sure the hunger to win was still there. As Jon said earlier, our boys have made so many sacrifices physically, financially in some cases to stay in Tampa – despite being courted by other clubs with millions of dollars – that we have had to take whatever means necessary to help them maintain this. appetite for victory. Every year is a headache and I always keep in mind the image of our captain wielding the Stanley Cup as a goal when the time comes to make the decisions that will allow us to achieve this, “explained Julien BriseBois.

As such, Corey Perry’s presence has greatly helped the lightning cause according to its new CEO. “It had a huge effect on everyone. It’s hard to quantify, but Corey has mentored many of our young players. He has been an asset to our coaches and to me precisely because he is very aware of all the necessary sacrifices that players have to make to win. “

Knowing how to adapt to win better

In the Stanley Cup final, the Lightning will have to deal with one of the great offensive powers of the NHL. A challenge that Jon Cooper and his team claim to be able to tackle.

“We beat two of the best offensive teams in the league in Toronto and Florida in the first and second rounds. Rangers were also very threatening in the eastern final. We know what awaits us in the Grand Final when the Avalanche form a formidable team. The biggest challenge is the lack of experience against them. We don’t see clubs in the West often enough to understand them. There are limits to what the video can tell you. There is nothing like the experience of playing against each other. But it’s just as true to them as it is to us, “said Jon Cooper, who sees the 2022 playoffs as a challenge versus the 2020 playoffs the Lightning faced to win the first of their two consecutive cups.

“Two years ago, we beat Dallas in the grand final and beat Columbus, Boston and New York (Islanders) in the first three rounds. These four teams were considered to be very solid defensive teams. Regardless of the opponent, regardless of the style of play he supports, you have to adapt and find a way to win four times “, concluded Jon Cooper.

I can’t wait to see what this final will offer. The avalanche lightning strikes begin Wednesday evening at 8:00 PM EST.

Good ending!

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