It wasn’t supposed to be this easy. When the Tampa Bay Lightning knew that their opponents in the Stanley Cup final would be the Montreal Canadiens, most fans dug their heels in and gritted their teeth ahead of what they expected to be a fraught, difficult seven-game series. Instead, they’re a mere two games from lifting the trophy as we write this article. After the most unlikely of turnarounds in the second game, the Lightning leads the Canadiens 2-0.
There’s an outside chance that the fifth game will already have happened by the time you read this article. If so, the score could either be 2-1 or 3-0. If it’s 3-0, Lightning is now only a single game from victory. If it’s 2-1, we still expect them to get the job done. Momentum appears to be with them, and so does form. Blake Coleman’s astonishing diving goal in the final two seconds of the second game’s second period summed up Lightning’s performance on the night. ESPN described it as a highlight reel performance. It’s difficult to disagree with that assessment. Coleman seemed to be everywhere on the ice, and his level of performance inspired his teammates to lift their game. Canadiens were left out of ideas and ultimately out of time. The final score was 3-1. In truth, it could have been higher.
We don’t want to go so far as to say the Stanley Cup belongs to Tampa Bay just yet. We’re old and ugly enough to know that anything can happen in ice hockey. Unpredictability is part of what makes the sport great. It’s like the Playtech “Ice Hockey” online slots game comes to life, with wins and losses seemingly coming from nowhere. In fact, it’s better than that. When you visit Rose Slots Canada and place bets on the “Ice Hockey” online slots game, it costs you money. The entertainment we’re getting from the Stanley Cup final costs us nothing at all. There’s still a definite winner and a definite loser, though, and this year the online slots jackpot winner seems likely to be Tampa Bay Lightning. Their odds are shorter than those you’d see with online slots, and the path to victory is clearer.
None of us has a crystal ball, but we think that the second period of this second game is what Lightning’s players and fans will come to look back on as the turning point of the contest should they go on and win the Stanley Cup. For a few minutes toward the end of that period, Andrei Vasilevskiy found himself under siege. A lesser player would have conceded more than once. Vasilevskiy turned into Superman. By the time the puck cleared to Blake Coleman, his team had spent almost the entire period on defence. It looked like Coleman wouldn’t even have time to think, let alone do anything else, but he somehow pulled off one of the most memorable goals we’ve seen on the ice in years. If Tampa Bay go on to win, Coleman and his goal will go down in history. It was a magical moment and made us happy there were over seventeen thousand people in attendance to see it. It would still have been a breathtaking goal in an empty arena, but the impact wouldn’t have been the same. The roar of the crowd helped to make the moment.
We should learn not to be surprised by the achievements of Tampa Bay Lightning. They are, after all, the defending champions. Players learn things about themselves when they win trophies, just as much as they learn in defeat. Victory can become a habit if you’re able to turn it into one. So can winning trophies. The experience of winning the Stanley Cup last year is still fresh in the mind of many of Lightning’s players. They have the experience of winning the competition and the knowledge that they’re capable of doing so. The Canadiens lack that confidence. It was in the key, clutch moments that the second game was won and lost. Coleman came up clutch. That image of him diving with one arm outstretched is destined to become iconic. It’ll be used in promo videos and commercials for the Stanley Cup finals for years to come.
As for Vasilevskiy – he’s never made more saves in his whole career. By the time the game finished, he’d made a whole 42. At times he was the only thing standing between the Lightning and a total battering, but he weathered the storm. Like Coleman, his performance will have done wonders for his confidence. What it will have done to the confidence of the Canadiens is just as important. In their minds, Vasilevskiy is an immovable object, and they still lose games even when they appear to have total control of them. Psychologically, they’re going to be bruised. Three days isn’t much time to turn that around and go again. If they fail to make an impression early on in the third game, things could get ugly. If they can’t scrape a win from a game in which they outshot their opponents by 43-23, they’re surely asking themselves what it’s going to take to get a positive result.
Hope for Montreal lies with the fact that games three and four will happen at home in Canada. Home advantage might be the intangible factor that the team has been missing in the two games thus far. On the other hand, the Lightning has a hundred ways to bean an opponent and only need to pick up two of the remaining five games. They’ll want to get things done quickly – via a sweep if at all possible – but they don’t have to rush if things go wrong. They have time and opportunities. The Canadiens have a mountain to climb. In sports, big games and fixtures tend to be won and lost because of moments more than general play. The Lightning have had their moment, and it shattered the Montreal resistance. Is there any way back from this for the Canadiens? We’ll soon know.