The Bolts have won a franchise record eight straight playoff games at AMALIE Arena, outscoring their opponents by a combined score of 33-13 during that eight-game span. Andrei Vasilevskiy has been particularly sharp on home ice, stopping 254 of 267 shots during those eight games for a .951 save percentage.
Vasilevskiy was a big reason for the Lightning’s win in Game 3, making some big-time saves in key moments. As Tampa Bay head coach Jon Cooper has said in the past, a lot of the most important saves in a game are based on the timeliness and Vasilevskiy has consistently stepped up and made huge saves in the biggest moments. Following Monday’s win, Vasilevskiy pushed his career playoff win total to 62 wins, the 14th-most in NHL history and one behind Curtis Joseph, who sits in 13th place with 63 career playoff wins.
In the other crease, Colorado’s Darcy Kuemper was yanked after giving up his fifth goal against off the stick of Pat Maroon. Avalanche head coach Jared Bednar would not give a firm answer on who is starting goaltender will be for Game 4 when asked on Wednesday morning, but it was Kuemper who practiced in the net typically occupied by the starting goalie at morning skate.
If there is one area where Tampa Bay has a decided advantage over Colorado, it’s between the pipes. Over his last seven appearances, Kuemper has stopped 126 of 147 shots against for an .857 save percentage. Overall, he has played in 13 games this postseason and recorded an .892 save percentage overall. At the other end, Vasilevskiy has a .920 save percentage in 20 playoff games this year and that includes being left in for the entirety of the 7-0 loss in Game 2 in Denver.
Video: Preview | Stanley Cup Final Game 4 vs Colorado
“He’s consistent,” Lightning forward Nick Paul said. “He’s focused all the time. He’s always dialed in. That’s what makes him such a good goalie.
“No days off for him. He’s always focused. He’s taking everything serious. Then, when game time comes, you guys see.”
Typically, as series go along, Vasilevskiy gets better. He picks up on tendencies of the opponent as the Bolts simultaneously increase their level of defensive play. Tampa Bay will need him to continue to play big against an Avalanche offense that has put up historic numbers throughout the playoffs.
Colorado is averaging 4.59 goals per game through 17 games this postseason. No team this century has averaged more goals per game in the playoffs. Of the teams that appeared in more than 10 postseason games in their respective seasons, only eight teams all-time have averaged a higher goal per game total than this year’s Avalanche squad.
But it’s defense that wins championships.
After giving up five goals to Toronto in Games 1 and 3 of Round One, the Lightning held the Leafs to three or less goals in three of the final four games of the series.
In Round Two, the Bolts smothered the Panthers high-octane offense, holding them to one goal or less in all four games of the series sweep.
Tampa Bay let the Rangers score six goals in Game 1 of the Eastern Conference Final. After that, they held New York to three goals in a Game 2 loss. Returning to home ice, the Lightning flipped the entire series. The Rangers scored two goals in Game 3 and managed to get one goal on the board in Games 4, 5, and 6.
Will that trend continue for the Bolts?
After the poor performance in Game 2, Tampa Bay held Colorado to two goals in Game 3 and both were scored on the power play. If the Lightning can improve their discipline and their play on the penalty kill, they will give themselves a great chance to win games.
“We’ve had a few clears,” Tampa Bay said forward Pierre-Edouard Bellemare. “Faceoffs need to be a little bit more dialed in. The small mistakes kind of cost us big time right away.
“We’re going to have to make sure that we are on our details and pretty close to as picture perfect as you can be.”
High-flying offenses are great to have, but at the end of the day, the winner of the Stanley Cup is usually the team that can defend better. The Lightning have the experience and they know what they have to do to win, but the offense of the Avalanche certainly provides the toughest test yet.
“We’ve just got to focus on the Tampa Bay Lightning,” said Maroon following the Game 3 win. “What we can control is the guys in that room just going out there and playing as best as we can because if we play good, we’ll be fine.
“This game is out the window too. It doesn’t matter what the score is in playoff hockey.
“It’s just one game. See you later. Let’s get to the next one. Now we’ve just got to focus on Game 4.”
The Lightning can expect a big response from Colorado tonight. Game 3 was the first road loss of the postseason for the Avalanche, who still have just three total losses throughout the entirety of the playoffs.
Video: Jon Cooper | Pregame SCF Game 4
“This group’s had a really impressive run of just turning the page on whether it’s a good thing or a bad thing,” said Cooper. “You’re looking about what’s in front of us and the challenge is a team that is probably going to come out pretty determined.
“Have we bought ourselves another game this series? We have, but we need to continue to buy more and that will be by being more determined, even more than we were in Game 3.”
On Wednesday morning, Cooper said that Brayden Point will be out for the second-consecutive game as he continues to recover from the lower-body injury suffered in Round One. Cooper added that he anticipates the lineup will remain the same as it was in Game 3. Some of that was in question after Nikita Kucherov was injured near the end of the game on Monday and Nick Paul left the game near the end of the first period with an apparent right leg injury before returning and scoring on his first shift back. While both of them are certainly banged up, it sounds like they will be in the lineup for Tampa Bay on Wednesday night. Riley Nashwho filled in on the fourth line in Point’s absence, will likely draw back into the lineup as well.
“Everybody’s an NHL player,” Bellemare said. “Everybody understands the system. Everybody can do the job.
“You just have to make sure that you respond present if the call is made for you and I think we’ve done a pretty good job so far.”
Nash was impressive in Game 3. He logged just 7:01 time on ice, but he made a positive impact when he got his chances and played a mistake-free, simple game. With a lot of turnovers and miscues in their own end in Games 1 and 2, the Bolts benefited from the calming presence of Nash in the lineup.
“It’s just a real complete lineup,” Lightning said forward Alex Killorn. “We don’t have Pointer, who typically would be one of our highest goal scorers, so other guys are filling in for him.
“That’s just what you have to do in a playoff run, so I think we’ve done a good job.”
On the injury side of things for the Avalanche, it sounds like Nazem Kadri is very close to making his return to the lineup. Bednar labeled Kadri as a “possibility” for Game 4, but the second-line center was taking reps on the team’s second power-play unit at their morning skate on Wednesday. I think he makes his return tonight.
Kadri would be a big add for Colorado. He has 14 points in 13 playoff games this year, scoring six goals and adding eight assists.
Video: McDonagh, Bellemare | Pregame SCF Game 4
The Avalanche have given the Lightning the most trouble this series with their quickness on the forecheck. Kadri’s a great skater, but will he be willing to play physical and aggressive roughly two weeks removed from thumb surgery? We may find out tonight.
Andre Burakovsky remains out for Colorado and will not play in Game 4.
My player to watch in Game 4 is Ondrej Palat, who has recorded a point in all nine home games this postseason. He has 13 points during that nine-game span with seven goals and six assists.
Overall, the Chamber has picked up a career-high 19 points this postseason with 10 goals and nine assists. He’s scored five goals over his last seven games and has notched points in six of his last seven contests overall. His 10 goals are tied with Steven Stamkos for the most among all Tampa Bay skaters.
“It’s 2-1 right now with another home game for our group,” Stamkos said. “We’re obviously very comfortable playing in front of our fans.
“It’s going to be a challenge. They’re going to respond now. We’ve seen this before with teams.
“We need to improve even more.”