(Denver, Colorado) The Ball Arena conference room is bustling with activity on Tuesday afternoons. For the first time since 2019, the NHL is organizing a real media day, this event in which practically all the players of the two finalist teams are available for interviews. There are six or seven at the same time, scattered on different podiums, to answer the questions.
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This is basically the last chance to talk to them before everyone gets into endgame mode. Before the answers get shorter. This is therefore an opportunity to address lighter topics. For example, when Nick Paul was asked to tell about his inter-stint interview with Renaud Lavoie at TVA Sports.
We don’t see him in the video, but Lightning head coach Jon Cooper calls his forward. “He was right behind me, I just heard him, I didn’t see him,” Paul said on Tuesday, on the eve of the final between the Tampa Bay Lightning and the Colorado Avalanche.
“We had just conceded a goal and I had lost my battle along the ramp. I wasn’t very happy either. Jon arrives, says, “Come to the locker room now!” This has never happened to me before. There was no way I was going to stay here! ”
It was during the first intermission of Game 2 of the Eastern Conference Finals. The New York Rangers had won the first game and led 2-1 in the second. They won that game, but the Lightning won the next four games to finish here in the final.
“It was an important match. We figured out what we needed to do. We lost, but the message was clear. Then we would go home, and that’s what started our awakening, ”Paul continued.
Twelve days later, Lightning is in the final for the third consecutive year. It is unheard of by the New York Islanders from 1980 to 1983. The Lightning is also looking to win the third straight Stanley Cup, another feat unprecedented since Alger Arbor and his troops.
Indeed, fielding three leagues in a row is a feat in any sport. This never happened in the NFL in the Super Bowl era. In major baseball, the New York Yankees from 1998 to 2000 are the only ones to have achieved this in the past 40 years. In the NBA it was more common, but the Los Angeles Lakers from 2000 to 2002 are the last real dynasty.
This theme of the subsequent championships was studied by the staff of the Lightning bolt. “One of the things we asked ourselves is, why is it so rare for a team to win twice in a row? Could it be because these teams breathe a little, once they have their name on the Cup, and this gives them a few years of serenity? Cooper said.
“One, humans can do a lot physically, more than you think. Two, the NHL players are elite athletes. It’s amazing what they can do to their bodies. It’s more on a psychological level that it gets difficult, “noted Julien BriseBois, Lightning’s CEO.
“I’ve talked to people from different organizations who have won two titles, not necessarily three. What often happened was that players lacked appetite in the third year. I’ve never heard of it with our team. In meetings with my players they always said that we remained on a mission. ”
In the specific case of hockey, the tight salary cap creates parity that makes it nearly impossible to maintain the core of a team over the long term. The Lightning have been there for the past few years, including last summer, when the team lost their third line outright in the off-season due to lack of pay. For once, this summer he will be able to breathe BriseBois, he who has only one contract to renew in his core, that of Ondrej Palat.
It is quite the opposite with the Avalanche. This team has 10 unlimited free agents on their roster, including goalkeeper Darcy Kuemper and forwards Nazem Kadri and Valeri Nichushkin. Not to mention, Nathan MacKinnon only has one year left to play for $ 6.3 million under the salary cap, a pittance (in context) for one who is in the top three NHL players.
“In the next few years, other teams will have this challenge too,” said Joe Sakic, Avalanche general manager. We must therefore take advantage of our opportunities. But we have a good young core. ”
The opportunity that the Avalanche have is to win the Stanley Cup, after years in which they have been seen as a power in the making. From 2009 to 2013 the team enlisted three times in the top three, but the good results of the season never turned into long springs.
The next is to prevent lightning from becoming a dynasty. If we trust the words gathered from one podium to another, it is certainly a source of motivation.
“It’s exciting. They are the best in a long time and we have a chance to knock them off their pedestal, said defender Cale Makar. We try to start something special and they try to keep writing their dynasty.”
“They lost to Columbus in 2019 and it’s like everyone has forgotten about them. And there they are trying to win a third cup in a row. The whole league is trying to emulate them, ”added another defender, Erik Johnson.
As in 1999
If anyone understands what’s at stake, it’s Sakic.
The former glory of the Quebec Nordiques has survived. As a player with the Avalanche, Sakic especially experienced the violent rivalry with the Detroit Red Wings. In 1999, these two teams met in the second round and the Wings were the double champions at the time. Avalanche won in six games before losing the Western Conference final.
“They were an incredible team. We had a lot of admiration for them, Sakic recalls. We didn’t like them, but we had to respect them. I’m sure they thought the same of us. These teams, you have to respect what they have done.
There we face the double champions and want to take them down. ”
Avalanche will have to succeed where the last 11 rivals of the Lightning playoffs have failed.