Thursday's NHL: Lightning unfazed trailing Avalanche in Stanley Cup Final

Associated Press

Denver — Minutes after losing Game 1 of the Stanley Cup Final in overtime, Patrick Maroon scoffed at the idea that it was some sort of gut punch to the Tampa Bay Lightning.

“Two really good teams going at it,” he said. “That’s Game 1. We just got to refocus and be ready for Game 2.”

Tampa Bay Lightning center Steven Stamkos (91) jumps over Colorado Avalanche defenseman Erik Johnson (6) during the second period of Game 1 of the NHL hockey Stanley Cup Final on Wednesday, June 15, 2022, in Denver.

Few teams in recent NHL history are better at doing that, which is why the Lightning are unfazed about trailing the Colorado Avalanche. The two-time defending champions have won 11 consecutive series since their remarkable postseason run began in 2020; in five of them, Tampa has lost the opener -- including twice this postseason -- and the experience has steeled them for situations just like this.

“It’s not about riding the wave of one game,” coach Jon Cooper said Thursday. “It’s kind of about getting our feet under us. It’s understanding we’re playing a different team. We can’t win the series all in one game, and (players have) been really good at that.”

Players wasted no time in moving on to Game 2 on Saturday night. Tampa Bay, after all, had roared back from a 3-1 first-period deficit to tie the opener before Andre Burakovsky's overtime winner. Elements from successful stretches of Game 1 can factor into the team’s tweaks and changes moving forward.

“We’ve done a great job of making adjustments after losses, so we’ll look to do that,” captain Steven Stamkos said. “The mindset is we’re here to win a series and you don’t know when that’s going to come: four games, five, six, seven. You never know.”

The Lightning have over the past three postseasons won series in all those combinations. But it wasn’t long ago that they were on the wrong side of a stunning defeat.

It’s hard to forget Tampa Bay getting swept in the first round by Columbus in 2019 after steamrolling the rest of the league all season and winning the Presidents’ Trophy with the best overall record. The adjustments, absent any panic moves like firing Cooper or breaking up the core, paved the way for this run.

The memory of that series and the 11 since that ended with them on the smiling side of the handshake line combines to give the Lightning the perspective they have today.

The Colorado Avalanche celebrate after an overtime goal by Andre Burakovsky in Game 1 of the NHL hockey Stanley Cup Final against the Tampa Bay Lightning on Wednesday, June 15, 2022, in Denver.

“That’s the great thing about our group: There aren’t many situations that we haven’t been in,” longtime winger Alex Killorn said. “It feels like we’ve seen it all. We’re not worried. We’re confident going forward. But there’s definitely a lot more work to be done.”

That includes trying to figure out how to slow down the speedy Avalanche, who want to turn games into track meets and use their offensive talent to pump in goals. Despite not getting past the second round the past four years, Colorado also has plenty of playoff experience and knows to expect a major pushback from the champs in Game 2.

Coach Jared Bednar believes the best way to handle that is for his team to keep playing its style.

“Regardless of how Tampa plays, we have a certain identity that we need to play to to be successful,” Bednar said. “We’ve learned that during the course of this season, especially. And then for me, it’s just managing those momentum swings.”

Tampa Bay is the first team since Wayne Gretzky’s Edmonton Oilers in the mid-1980s to reach the final three years in a row and is four victories away from the league’s first three-peat since the New York Islanders dynasty of the early ’80s. Cooper has managed to keep his players’ emotions in check so much that defenseman Mikhail Sergachev called the 1-0 deficit “the usual stuff.”

As unusual as it was for Tampa Bay to fall behind 2-0 last round against the New York Rangers, the Avalanche present a different challenge behind their high-end talent. While the Lightning will need to improve their play, most notably how they start, their mentality is now their biggest advantage.

“That’s taken some time for us to kind of fall into that mindset, but we’ve really developed that over the years,” Cooper said. “Hopefully one more series we can carry that through and take another step forward.”

Tortorella hired as coach by Philadelphia Flyers

Philadelphia — The Philadelphia Flyers have hired John Tortorella as their new coach, hoping the fiery veteran can help lead them to their first Stanley Cup championship since 1975.

The hire was confirmed Thursday by a person with direct knowledge of the decision who spoke with The Associated Press on condition of anoymity because it had not been announced. The official announcement was expected Friday.

Tortorella, who turns 64 next week, coached Tampa Bay to a Stanley Cup title in 2004, and he also coached the New York Rangers and Vancouver Canucks. He was fired in May 2021 after six seasons with the Columbus Blue Jackets.

Columbus Blue Jackets coach John Tortorella watches the team play against the San Jose Sharks during an NHL hockey game in San Jose, Calif., Jan. 9, 2020. The Philadelphia Flyers have hired Tortorella as their new coach, hoping the veteran can help lead them to their first Stanley Cup since 1975. Tortorella coached Tampa Bay to a Stanley Cup title in 2004. He also coached the New York Rangers and Vancouver Canucks. He was fired in May 2021 after six seasons with the Blue Jackets.

Tortorella is the sixth Flyers coach in the last 10 years and he will triy to revitalize a dormant franchise that has just one playoff series victory since 2012. The Flyers finished with a 25-46-11 record this season under Alain Vigneault and Mike Yeo and were last in the Metropolitan Division.

The Blue Jackets went 227-166-54 under Tortorella, including a franchise-best 50-24-8 finish in 2016-17. But the wheels fell off during a terrible 2020-21 season (18-26-12).

Tortorella is the second-winningest American-born coach in NHL history. He is known for his occasional temper and demanding, no-nonsense coaching style, and he has clashed through the years with his share of players.

Flyers winger Cam Atkinson played under Tortorella in Columbus. He said at the end of the season the Flyers were “a pretty soft team” and a coach like Tortorella could help toughen up any franchise.

“I think it all starts with practice. You practice how you play,” Atkinson said in April. “Especially when I turned pro, I learned that from John Tortorella. He was great in that aspect. ... I think going into next year, we need to find a way to have some more grit, some more jam, more ’F you” to our game, on both sides of the puck, in our crease, defending our goalie and in their crease.”

Flyers chairman David Scott said in January that he didn’t think the franchise needed a a long rebuilding year plan and there was enough of a proven core to turn the team into a winner. Scott said he would give Flyers general manager Chuck Fletcher “a blank check” to fix the Flyers.

The Flyers have pinned their hopes on Travis Konecny, Joel Farabee, Travis Sanheim and goalie Carter Hart as key pieces of the future. The Flyers last played in the Stanley Cup Final in 2010 and haven’t won a championship since consecutive Stanley Cups in 1974 and 1975.

Tortorella is 673-541-37-132 over almost 20 seasons and emerged as the new coach out of a slew of candidates that included former Washington and Islanders coach Barry Trotz. Tortorella is only 56-64 in the playoffs with six first-round exits.

Tortorella worked this season for ESPN as part of its studio coverage.