Lightning drawing on experience to overcome series deficit


Lightning drawing on experience to overcome series deficit

The Tampa Bay Lightning have been here before.

Trailing 3-2 in their first-round series to the Detroit Red Wings, the Lightning quickly put a 4-0 loss behind them by pulling off a Game 6 road win and, two nights later, a Game 7 shutout win at home. They also handed the New York Rangers their first ever Game 7 loss at Madison Square Garden, where they'd previously been 7-0, in the Eastern Conference Final with yet another impressive shutout victory.

So this isn't anything new to the Lightning.

The only difference is, this is the Stanley Cup Final, a place they haven't been since 2004 and somewhere the Blackhawks have been three times in the last six years. But considering they've done it this postseason already, the Lightning believe there's no reason they can't overcome a series deficit while facing elimination again.

"We've worked way too hard to not leave everything on the ice in this next game," Lightning captain Steven Stamkos said. "We proved it all along that we can bounce back. We've been in this exact same situation before. You just draw on that experience."

[MORE: Blackhawks' mental toughness on full display this postseason]

A big reason they were able to complete those series wins was because of the emergence of the "Triplets" line featuring Ondrej Palat, Tyler Johnson, and Nikita Kucherov. But with Kucherov's — who exited Saturday's contest early after colliding into the post — status for Game 6 unknown, the Lightning need their captain now more than ever, and Stamkos, who has yet to score in the Stanley Cup Final, acknowledged that.

"That's why you need the depth at this time of the year," he said. "These are probably two of the deepest teams in the league. You have to rely on all players in these situations, which we have, and they have as well. But in the big moments, you want your guys to step up. I definitely want to be a guy that can step up tomorrow night and help our team win, whether it's on the score sheet or not.

"Our focus is getting a win. Like I said, there's really no other option for our group right now."

While the Blackhawks — aiming to claim the Stanley Cup on home ice for the first time since 1938 — are trying not to look too far ahead, the Lightning are trying not to look at how far they've come yet. Their postseason journey started 61 days ago — "The Detroit series seems like last season," said Lightning head coach Jon Cooper — and they're not ready for it to end.

"It's been a phenomenal ride that is not over," Cooper said. "We have to embrace this and have fun with this. I think that's part of the reason why we're still here. But the one thing about this group that I've learned is when it's time to go to work, these guys punch the clock and step on the ice. It's been a pleasure and an honor to coach these guys, to the point where I basically almost stand there. They almost kind of run themselves.

"To be this close, gosh, it would be a shame if we couldn't try to pull this one off."

[NBC SHOP: Gear up, Blackhawks fans!]

If they do, it'll start Monday night in Chicago, which may not be the worst thing.

The Lightning have proved to be much better on the road (8-4) than at home (6-7) this postseason — perhaps thriving on the role of being underdogs — and found a way to win at the United Center in Game 3. That alone should instill hope that it can be done a second time. 

"No excuses for our group," Stamkos said. "We're here. We've given ourselves a chance. There's two games scheduled left in the season. We can be part of that. That's the mentality we've had. We've played extremely well on the road. We've won in this building before. We're going to be a confident group heading in."

NHL Draft Profile: D Quinn Hughes

NHL Draft Profile: D Quinn Hughes

From June 17-21, Charlie Roumeliotis will profile two prospects per day — 10 total (five forwards, five defensemen) — leading up to the NHL Draft.​

Quinn Hughes

Position: Defenseman
Height: 5-foot-10
Weight: 170 pounds
Shoots: Left

Scouting report:

"He's got the puck skills, is a good skater, and is a guy with some high-end offensive talent. He wants to get right in there and play where it's hard and where you get rewarded. When he gets that puck on his stick, he wants to bury it."

NHL player comparable: Torey Krug/Kris Letang

Fit for Blackhawks:

It's no secret the Blackhawks are looking to restock their pipeline with some high-end defensemen. Henri Jokiharju and Ian Mitchell are on the way. But the former isn't a lock to be a full-time NHLer this season and the latter will continue playing in college for the 2018-19 season.

Hughes, who shined at Michigan and the IIHF World Championship with Team USA, would have the best chance of the three to crack the Blackhawks lineup first. The problem is, he likely won't be available at No. 8, so if Hughes is the guy they're locked in on, they'd need to trade up to grab him. 

If they did that, Hughes would give the Blackhawks a third blue line prospect they can get excited about. He's a left-handed shot, which evens out the balance in the system, and he would become a prime candidate to eventually replace Duncan Keith as the team's No. 1 defenseman.

NHL Draft Profile: F Oliver Wahlstrom

NHL Draft Profile: F Oliver Wahlstrom

From June 17-21, Charlie Roumeliotis will profile two prospects per day — 10 total (five forwards, five defensemen) — leading up to the NHL Draft.​

Oliver Wahlstrom

Position: Right wing
Height: 6-foot-1
Weight: 205 pounds
Shoots: Right

Scouting report:

"Wahlstrom already has an NHL-caliber shot with a quick release and the ability to create space for himself and linemates. He's most known for his goal-scoring ability and elite shot, and can hit a one-timer as good or better than many professional players."

NHL player comparable: Phil Kessel

Fit for Blackhawks:

The Blackhawks would probably prefer to take a defenseman at No. 8, but because four of them might go inside the Top 7, the best available player on the board is likely to be a forward. And there's a decent chance that could be Wahlstrom.

Wahlstrom would immediately become Chicago's top prospect, and a player that has the potential to slide into the top six when he reaches the NHL — whenever that may be.

He's committed to college for the 2018-19 season, so it's doubtful he would join the team until at least 2019-20, but Blackhawks vice president of amateur scouting Mark Kelley said in our draft preview edition of the Hawks Talk Podcast that it wouldn't deter them from picking him. 

And it shouldn't, because you don't want to waste a player of his caliber's entry-level years developing in the minors if he's not ready yet.

"I think the way we would evaluate it is, we project them, we try to get a timeline on when we think they might be NHL ready," Kelley said. "But we're also looking for where they are in their development curve and want their ceiling is. I think in some players, you have to be a little bit more patient for them to reach their ceiling. That doesn't necessarily mean that players can't exceed their development curve, I think we saw that with Alex DeBrincat last year."