Yet, the Lightning are in the Stanley Cup Final again with an opportunity to even the best-of-7 series against the Colorado Avalanche with a victory in Game 4 at Amalie Arena on Wednesday (8 pm ET; ABC, ESPN+, CBC, SN , VAT).
This hasn’t happened by chance. Nicholas Paul and Corey Perrytwo of the forwards added after Goodrow, Gourde and Coleman left, each scored a goal in a 6-2 win in Game 3 on Monday that cut Colorado’s series lead to 2-1.
But Tampa Bay always expected to be here.
“Yes, last year, we knew we were going to lose some players, players that contributed to two Stanley Cups and were greatly appreciated by me, by the coaches, by the other players, by our fans,” Lightning general manager Julien BriseBois said . “So, we knew that was going to be a loss, but we also went into the offseason with the idea of trying to win some more and trying to be a Stanley Cup contender again.
“We went into the offseason knowing we’d probably be in a position to at least compete for the Stanley Cup.”
That appeared unlikely when Goodrow (rights traded to the New York Rangers), Gourde (claimed by the Seattle Kraken in the 2021 NHL Expansion Draft) and Coleman (signed with Calgary Flames) departed within three weeks of Tampa Bay defeating the Montreal Canadiens in five games in the 2021 Stanley Cup Final. But that’s when BriseBois and his staff went to work.
Perry and Pierre Edouard Bellemare were signed to two-year contracts as unrestricted free agents last summer. Knowing more was needed for the Stanley Cup Playoffs, Tampa Bay acquired Paul from the Ottawa Senators (for forward Matthew Joseph and a fourth-round pick in the 2024 NHL Draft) and Brandon Hagel from the Chicago Blackhawks (with fourth-round picks in the 2022 and 2024 drafts for forwards Boris Katchouk and Taylor Raddyish and top-10 protected first-round picks in the 2023 and 2024 drafts) before the 2022 NHL Trade Deadline.
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Although it was impossible to duplicate the chemistry Coleman, Gourde and Goodrow had, the Lightning’s additions have teamed with returning players to collectively achieve much of what that line did, from setting the tone with a relentless forecheck and physicality, playing head-to-head against top lines and scoring timely goals.
“Yanni Gourde to me was one of the lifelines of our team and we lost him and it’s still a significant impact,” Lightning coach Jon Cooper said. “But so was Goodrow and so was Coleman. And the fact that people have picked up the slack. … for Nick Paul to come in and Brandon Hagel and Perry and Bellemare to step in and fill roles that, I’ll be honest, they haven’t filled their shoes, but they’re as damn close as anybody could ever be.”
Perry, a veteran of 17 NHL seasons, won the Stanley Cup with the Anaheim Ducks in 2007 and lost to the Lightning in the Stanley Cup Final with the Dallas Stars in 2020 and Montreal last season. Bellemare reached the 2018 Stanley Cup Final with the Vegas Golden Knights and played for the Avalanche for two seasons before signing with the Lightning.
Video: COL@TBL, Gm3: Perry nets PPG after Palat redirect
Perry and Bellemare fit well on the fourth line with Pat Maroon that has been effective at generating sustained pressure in the offensive zone and wearing down defenders. When forward Brayden Point was unable to play in Game 3 on Monday, Perry moved up to play on the third line with Paul and Ross Colton and took Point’s place on the first power-play unit.
That was also the case when Point missed 10 games with a lower-body injury before returning for Game 1 of the Cup Final.
“To come in and not be the same player as (Goodrow, Gourde or Coleman) but do different things that I can do and help this team win is all I can do,” said Perry, who has nine points (six goals, three assists) in 20 playoff games. “You’re not going to replace three guys that were key members effectively on this team in winning those last two championships. So, the new guys came in and we filled in and here we are.”
Paul, who set NHL career-highs with 16 goals, 16 assists and 32 points in 80 regular-season games with Ottawa and Tampa Bay this season, never previously played in the playoffs in his seven seasons in the League. But the 27-year-old has stepped up with nine points (five goals, four assists) in 20 playoff games.
That includes two goals in the Cup Final and both Tampa Bay goals in 2-1 victory in Game 7 of the first round against the Toronto Maple Leafs.
“‘Paulie’ has been unbelievable ever since he got here,” Lightning forward Anthony Cirelli said. “The way he plays, he’s the hardest working guy. He’s always in the right spots. He’s given all his effort and he can make plays and score big goals, like he has throughout these playoffs.”
Video: COL@TBL, Gm3: Paul extends Lightning lead from slot
Hagel hasn’t had as big an impact offensively, scoring six points (two goals, four assists) in 20 playoff games, but the 23-year-old has played a different role than with Chicago, where he scored 21 goals in 55 games before the trade.
With Tampa Bay, Hagel has skated on a checking line with Cirelli and Alex Killorn that was pivotal in shutting down the Rangers top line centered by Mika Zibanejad at even strength in the final four games of the Eastern Conference Final and has been matched against Colorado’s top line centered by Nathan MacKinnon in the Cup Final.
“This team has a lot more depth and guys that have won championships these last two years, so they know what it takes,” Hagel said. “So, I wasn’t expecting to come here and be this goal scorer and stuff like that. They have tons of those guys on this team. So, whatever role the coach is going to put me in, I’m going to run with it.”
It’s helped that the Lightning’s championship core, including Steven Stamkos, Nikita Kucherov, Victor Hedman, Ondrej Palat and Point, remained intact, allowing the newcomers to slot in without disrupting what worked well the previous two seasons.
“Everyone kind of knows what their role is and what’s expected of them and the coaches do a great job of conveying that to the players,” BriseBois said. “Then the environment is just kind of set up for the players to go out and do their thing. We’re not asking a player to come in to be anything other than what they are. That’s why we brought them in. We brought Nick Paul in to be Nick Paul. We brought Brandon Hagel in to be Brandon Hagel.
“You go do our thing, everyone else will do their thing and hopefully good results will come from that.”