After posting 18 points in 59 games for Ottawa, Paul had 14 in 21 regular season games with the Lightning. In the first round against Toronto, Paul scored Tampa Bay’s only two goals in Game 7 to oust his hometown team.
“The confidence,” said Paul, when asked what he noticed upon arrival. “And being able to do it no matter what it takes.”
Clinging to the vague nomenclature that accompanies playoff injuries (dysentery, for example, might simply be classified as a lower-body ailment), Paul said he felt “pins and needles” after a shove from the defenseman Avalanche’s Josh Manson sent him hurtling into his “funny.” bone”, which is quite a euphemism for the right knee. The sensation that spread made the act of skating less of an inconvenience than an extravagance. But he slowed down enough that, in his first at-bat back, he took a pass from Ross Colton in the slot 86 seconds into the second period and hit a shot past Colorado goalkeeper Darcy Kuemper.
“You see some plays start to go your way and all of a sudden you’re standing under you,” Stamkos said. “It’s almost like you feel lighter out there.”
Two more Lightning goals followed in the next 10 minutes or so, banishing Kuemper to the bench, and now it’s Colorado’s turn to recover, rest and recalibrate. This Avalanche team, in a sense, evokes the nascent Lightning, loaded with speed and skill, but without, as yet, the validation of a championship.
Last postseason, after tied for the most points in the NHL, Colorado won its first two second-round games against Las Vegas by a 10-3 margin. Then he lost the next four. In the first two games of these finals, Colorado outscored Tampa Bay 11-3. Now, with their aura of invincibility pierced and a shaky goalie situation heading into Game 4 on Wednesday night, the Avalanche will try to avoid a similar meltdown.
“We’ll be back,” Avalanche captain Gabriel Landeskog said, “and we’ll be fine.”
Maybe. Maybe not. The Rangers, after expressing the same conviction in the Eastern Conference finals, scored five goals in four straight losses. The Avalanche are a more powerful opponent, but the Lightning remains as usual. Champions once, twice and, apart from an unsightly wobble, with their dynastic aspirations real and intact.