MONTREAL — The Tampa Bay Lightning aren’t just on the verge of winning the Stanley Cup. They’re on the verge of leaving an even larger legacy.
With a 6-3 victory against the Montreal Canadiens in Game 3 of the Stanley Cup Final at Bell Centre on Friday, they are one win from sweeping the best-of-7 series.
One more victory, and they will become the second team since the NHL introduced the salary cap in 2005-06 to win back-to-back championships, after the Pittsburgh Penguins in 2016 and 2017.
Win Game 4 here Monday (8 p.m. ET; NBC, CBC, SN, TVAS), and they’ll become the first team to sweep the Cup Final since the Detroit Red Wings against the Washington Capitals in 1998.
“You start throwing legacy around and a lot of these words that describe teams that, you know, you sit there and say, ‘Jeez, they were a pretty [darn] good team,’ but you really only get that moniker if you win Cups,” coach Jon Cooper said. “I know we’ve won one, and nobody can take that away from us, but the determination on this group to get another one is … It’s amazing to watch.
“We are not there yet. But I’m so proud of just the maturity level of this group and their sheer determination to continue and to try and get another one, and hopefully at some point here we can do that.”
This Cup Final has been one of the most lopsided through three games in NHL history.
The Lightning have outscored the Canadiens 14-5, becoming the first team with a plus-nine goal differential through three games of a Cup Final since the Red Wings outscored the Philadelphia Flyers 14-5 in 1997. The Red Wings went on to sweep that series.
Only three teams have outscored their opponents by a larger margin through three games of a Cup Final.
The Boston Bruins outscored the St. Louis Blues 16-4 in 1970, and the Colorado Avalanche outscored the Florida Panthers 14-4 in 1996. Each went on to win in a sweep.
The other team?
The Seattle Metropolitans outscored the Canadiens 16-6 in 1919. That was before the Cup Final was called the Cup Final, before the Cup always went to the NHL champion. Seattle was in the Pacific Coast Hockey Association. The series was not completed due to the Spanish flu epidemic.
When you’re going back more than a century in hockey history to make comparisons, well, it speaks to what’s going on right now.
“We’re obviously one win away now, so it’s all we’re really focused on,” said forward Tyler Johnson, who scored twice Friday. “We’re working together as a team on it, and we’re trying to create something special.”
The Lightning have developed their maturity and earned this opportunity over a span of years.
They lost the 2015 Stanley Cup Final to the Chicago Blackhawks in six games, lost the 2016 Eastern Conference Final to the Penguins in seven, missed the 2017 Stanley Cup Playoffs and lost the 2018 conference final to the Capitals in seven.
Then, after winning 62 games in 2018-19, tying the 1995-96 Red Wings for the NHL record, they were swept in the first round by the Columbus Blue Jackets.
When they won the Cup last season, forward Alex Killorn said, “It seemed kind of a relief.” Captain Steven Stamkos said one of their first thoughts when celebrating was, “We can’t wait to do this again, because it’s so amazing.”
The 2020-21 regular season was a grind, the Lightning playing only within the Discover Central Division in the temporarily aligned NHL due to the coronavirus pandemic. They finished third while forward Nikita Kucherov, their leading scorer the previous five seasons, recovered from hip surgery.
Kucherov returned for the playoffs good as new, and they defeated the Panthers in six games, the Carolina Hurricanes in five and the New York Islanders in seven.
They have not taken the Canadiens for granted, even though Montreal is the second team in NHL history to finish the regular season as low as 18th in the League standings and make the Cup Final. The 2009-10 Flyers finished 18th and lost the Cup Final in six games to the Blackhawks.
You don’t get the sense the Lightning will the Canadiens for granted even now. They know the Canadiens were behind 3-1 in the Stanley Cup First Round and came back to defeat the Toronto Maple Leafs in seven games.
“I know how fun it was last year when we won, so [you] want to do that again,” Johnson said. “You don’t know how many chances you’re going to get. Any time you get this close, you really feel it. So I think winning last year makes you even want to win it more, and I think everyone kind of feels that way, and we’re really excited.
“But there’s still a lot more to do. We still have one more game. We know the fourth one’s always the toughest, and we’re going to have to have a really good game.”