TAMPA, Fla. – The Stanley Cup has to get on a plane to Tampa. Do not bet on it making an appearance Sunday night at Amalie Arena.
Indeed, bet against the Lightning at your own risk. The team that has won the last two Cups has no intent on loosening its grip on Lord Stanley’s chalice, what must seem like a vice-like grip to the Avalanche about now.
With 18,000 energized fans wanting, expecting, and hoping to see the Cup presented to their beloved Avs for the first time in 21 years, the Lightning went out-played about as effective a game as a team can play under the circumstances Friday night in Denver. Their 3-2 win in Game 5, a game in which they gave up a pair of one-goal leads, but never trailed, was thorough in every sense.
Again: the home team, with the Cup ready to be presented, never led.
The heart and soul, will, and determination of the Lightning, who overflow with each of those characteristics, rose to the surface from the drop of the puck.
Heart and soul? Will and determination? The poster child must be Ondrej Palat, whose goal with 6:22 remaining in the third period was the difference. It was his seventh third-period goals in these playoffs and franchise-record 12th career playoff game-winner.
“It’s pretty remarkable,” said Steven Stamkos, in an understatement.
Much of what Palat does for the Lightning does not show up on the score sheet. He shows up on the score sheet, though, when his team needs him most.
“Everybody was pretty confident and excited,” Palat told ESPN immediately after the game, about the team’s mood heading into Game 5. “We knew we had to win this game and move on.”
The Lightning won, and the Lightning move on.
“We find a way,” Corey Perry, who assisted on the first two goals. “We just keep plugging along and, I mean, this is fun. This is what hockey is all about.”
It is what Lightning hockey is all about.
While the Avalanche might have been squeezing their sticks as an opportunity to win it all in front of their fans was dwindling away, the Lightning went about their business in a manner you expect a team that has 17 players who have won at least one Cup.
With that level of Stanley Cup experience, the Lightning are not going to panic, which is what most Avs fans were likely doing when their team was called for too many men on the ice with 2:43 remaining in the third period. You read that correctly: too many men on the ice.
The infraction prevented Colorado from pulling goalie Darcy Kuemper and applying pressure on the Lightning in an attempt to tie the game until less than 40 seconds remained. And then, the Bolts prevented the Avalanche from getting anything through to Andrei Vasilevskiy, who stopped 35 of 37 shots in winning the 11th Cup final game of his career.
When the buzzer sounded, and with the party spoiled, the Lightning skated off the ice and began looking forward to Game 6 on Sunday night (8:00, ABC) at what will be a rocking Amalie Arena.