Few teams can relate to the situation presented to the Avalanche on Friday night, needing to grind out one more win to hoist the Stanley Cup.
The Lightning can.
And few coaches can relate to the situation the Avs’ Jared Bednar is in, needing to construct one more game plan to see his players celebrating on the ice.
Jon Cooper can.
A split in Tampa Bay earlier in the week sent the Avalanche home to Ball Arena up 3-1 in the Stanley Cup Final. The Lightning is one loss away from seeing its three-peat quest fall short.
But because it has tasted Cup glory and can relate to the Avs being on the cusp, the Lightning weren’t about to figuratively concede — its players know how precious each chance to play in the Final is.
“You don’t know how many opportunities (and) how many kicks you’re going to get at it,” winger Alex Killorn said. “For us, it’s easy to think you’re going to be back every year just because of how things have been going, but that’s just not the reality.
“There are a lot of guys in the room who haven’t won the Cup. There’s a lot on the line and you just want to make sure you make the most of these situations.”
Are the last three playoff years (12 rounds and 69 games entering Friday) catching up with the Lightning?
The injuries just in this series have piled up — center Brayden Point exited after Game 2, winger Nikita Kucherov is playing through an injury sustained late in Game 3 and center Anthony Cirelli and defenseman Erik Cernak were injured in Game 4. The Avs have played without center Nazem Kadri (Games 1-3) and winger Andre Burakovsky (Games 3-4).
“The playoffs is really a war of attrition,” Cooper said. “I can’t explain what the guys go through.”
“Don’t say, ‘Poor us,’ — all the teams have to do it,” Cooper said. “I’m pretty sure Colorado has probably got some guys banged up and they’ve got guys out just as we do. Man, it’s a grind watching what goes on and it’s not a week or two-week period, it’s a couple of months.
“It’s impressive but it’s also kind of heartbreaking, too, because you watch these guys get themselves off the table and back on the ice. … There’s no place these players would rather be, but it is taxing.”
Taxing physically, of course, but also taxing on the mind as players will themselves to get ready to play.
“You get mentally drained,” Cooper said. “You kind of marvel at their gamesmanship and their want to win a Cup. And I’m sure it’s the same way on the (Avalanche’s) side.”
Recent history suggests the final step is also the most elusive.
The last two postseasons, the Lightning beat Dallas and Montreal in the Final in its second clinching opportunity.
Over the last decade, the Lightning and Los Angeles (twice) and St. Louis and Pittsburgh (once) all lost their first close-out game in the Final, but won the following game.
Chicago didn’t mess around, winning its first close-out game in 2010, ’13 and ’15.
Over the last four seasons, the Avalanche beat Calgary (’19), Arizona (’20), St. Louis (’21) and Nashville and Edmonton (this year) in its first close-out opportunity and St. Louis this year in its second chance.