Can Tampa Bay come back again?
by Lucas Aykroyd|21 JUN 2022
The two-time defending champion Tampa Bay Lightning hope to become the sixth team in NHL history to win the Stanley Cup after trailing 2-0 in the series. Pictured is Pat Maroon scoring on Colorado goalkeeper Darcy Kuemper.
photo: Chris O'Meara / AP Photo / Keystone
If the Tampa Bay Lightning win this year’s Stanley Cup after dropping the first two games of the final to the Colorado Avalanche, they’ll make history on multiple levels. The defending two-time champions’ 6-2 home-ice victory in Game Three was a step in the right direction.

The Lightning could become the first club to win three consecutive Stanley Cups since the classic New York Islanders dynasty led by Mike Bossy, Denis Potvin, and Bryan Trottier (1980-83). Moreover, never before has a team trailed 2-0 in two NHL playoff series and come away with the Cup. Coach Jon Cooper’s men are hungry to change that.

In the Eastern Conference final, Tampa Bay rallied from a 2-0 series deficit to advance with four straight wins against the New York Rangers. The Bolts need a special mental toughness to conquer the powerful Avalanche, who set a new franchise record this season with 119 points, second in the league only to the Florida Panthers (122 points).

“Right back on the horse,” said Tampa Bay’s Nick Paul, who scored the 2021 IIHF World Championship winner when Canada beat Finland 3-2 in overtime in Riga. “You stay focused and confident in the group. There’s no frustration in this group. We trust one another.”
The Lightning were outplayed but still just one shot away from victory when Andrei Burakovsky notched Colorado’s 4-3 overtime winner in Game One at Denver’s Ball Arena.

Saturday’s Game Two saw the two-time defending champs completely shredded by Colorado’s speed in a 7-0 shellacking.

In fact, the Lightning became one of just three teams in history to get shut out in a Stanley Cup final game by seven or more goals. They share this dubious distinction with the Montreal Canadiens, who lost 7-0 to the Seattle Metropolitans in Game One in 1919, and the Minnesota North Stars, who fell 8-0 to the Pittsburgh Penguins in Game Six in 1991. Some observers felt Tampa Bay might be doomed.

Yet the Bolts completely turned the tables on their adversaries in Game Three. As big as getting two-point games from captain Steven Stamkos, Nikita Kucherov, and Ondrej Palat was, the complete team defensive effort and elite goaltending were even more important.

Andrei Vasilevski – the consensus best goalie in the world – struggled with 11 goals surrendered on 68 shots for an 83.8 save percentage in the first two games in the Mile High City. But the Russian winner of the 2019 Vezina Trophy and 2021 Conn Smythe Trophy was up to his old tricks in the 6-2 romp, stopping 37 of 39 Avalanche shots (94.9 save percentage).
Avalanche superstar Nathan MacKinnon took a phlegmatic view of the defeat, which wasted a two-goal outing by captain Gabriel Landeskog: “You have a short memory. We’re going to lose games. We’d won every game on the road, so I guess we were due for a tough night.”

Exactly what hope does history provide for Bolts fans in their team’s bid to win three more games?

Out of 49 NHL teams who have trailed 2-0 in the finals, only five have stormed back to win the Stanley Cup. Unlikely, but doable.

The most dramatic example is the 1942 Toronto Maple Leafs, who went down 3-0 to the Detroit Red Wings, but rallied and won Game Seven 3-1 at Maple Leaf Gardens on two Sweeney Schriner goals. Montreal achieved the feat in six games versus Detroit in 1966 and in seven games versus the Chicago Blackhawks in 1971.

It would take 38 years until another team rallied from a 2-0 finals deficit to prevail. The 2009 Pittsburgh Penguins faced Detroit for the second straight year. Although the Wings looked poised to repeat after defeating the Pens twice at home to start off, the series was decided by Max Talbot’s two second-period goals in Pittsburgh’s 3-1 Game Seven win.

Most recently, the Vancouver Canucks entered the 2011 Stanley Cup finals as the favourites after winning the Presidents’ Trophy with 111 points. Yet after Vancouver edged the Boston Bruins in the first two games at Rogers Arena, the series turned both dramatic and nasty. Fueled by losing Nathan Horton to injury on an open-ice hit by Canucks D-man Aaron Rome, the Bruins battled their way to a 4-0 Game Seven win, which sadly triggered a riot in downtown Vancouver.

Right now, the Avalanche would love to borrow loosely from what the Edmonton Oilers did in their first Cup run in 1984. The Islanders – vying for their fifth straight title – earned their first win of the finals in Game Two, thumping Edmonton 6-1. Still, Wayne Gretzky, Mark Messier, and their Oilers teammates got their offence firing on all cylinders to triumph. The next three games finished 7-2, 7-2, and 5-2 in Edmonton’s favour.

That said, despite Colorado’s Game Two blowout and its established status as an offensive juggernaut (312 regular season goals), it’s likely that Tampa Bay – win or lose – isn’t going to get completely outgunned again.

Sports betting has exploded in North America recently. Whether or not you gamble, we can all agree: it’s hard to bet against the Bolts.