Lightning on the doorstep of a championship

They’ve overcome injury. They’ve overcome scrutiny. They’ve overcome the ghosts of 2015, 2016, 2018, and 2019. And now – now – the Tampa Bay Lightning are knocking on the door of their second Stanley Cup Championship in franchise history.

They’ve done it with the offensive outpouring of Brayden Point, Nikita Kucherov, Victor Hedman, and Ondrej Palat. They’ve done it with the stern resiliency of Andrei Vasilevskiy – who has played every minute in the bubble. They’ve done it in spite of the roaring criticisms of head coach Jon Cooper.

But the job isn’t done.

The Lightning enter Saturday night’s game against the Dallas Stars up 3-1 in the series and can end it all with a win in game five. Two months in the bubble and they can return home as champions of the National Hockey League.

It hasn’t been easy. The word I’ve stressed time and time again has been resiliency. They were resilient yet again in game four. Down 2-0 in the first then Brayden Point had one of the most spectacular breakaways in Lightning postseason history – thanks to an incredible pass from Palat.

Down 3-2, it’s Alex Killorn who rip a turnaround shot that gets past Anton Khudobin for the tie. It’s Yanni Gourde who puts the team up 4-3 in the third period until Kevin Shattenkirk sees a puck redirect off his knee and go into his own goal to tie the game at 4-4.

Then – then we get the embellishment call. I’m not going to dive too much into the officiating but there is no man on earth that could have taken the shot to the groin Point did and not react the same way. And for any Stars fans reading this – yes, that was absolutely a penalty on Jamie Benn. Playoffs or not, you can’t scream and cry about officiating with a completely legitimate penalty while the Lightning were called for embellishment and the Stars got away with two high sticks and a crosscheck to the neck. The Lightning have one more power play in the series than Dallas. The difference is that Tampa Bay is capitalizing on their power plays while the Stars are not.

Anyway, back to Shattenkirk. The man who saw the tying goal ricochet off himself – resiliency. It was off his stick that the game winning goal was sniped past Khudobin. He went from the goat to the hero in a matter of minutes.

So, it all comes down to this. The Lightning can end the series or the Stars can live to see another game. There hasn’t been a team come behind from being down 3-1 in a Stanley Cup Finals and win it all since 1942. Seventy-eight years. The Stars are in a position where they are going to attempt something that hasn’t been done since the league was expanded beyond the original six. It’s up to the Lightning to stop them.

It’s disappointing that Steven Stamkos will not suit up in game five, but as I talked about here, that 2:47 of ice time in game three may have been all his teammates needed from him to get them over the top. It’s up to the men that got them to this point – Kucherov, Hedman, Point, and Vasy – to finish the job and bring home the cup. Don’t let the Stars back in it. Don’t give them a reason to believe. Step on the gas – step on their throats – and don’t you dare let up for one second.

Sixty minutes away. Sixty minutes from finishing what was started in 2015. Sixty minutes from immortality. Hopefully, that’s all the Lightning will need.