After scoring 18 points in 59 games for the Ottawa, Paul had 14 points in 21 regular season games for the Lightning. In the first round against Toronto, Paul scored just two goals against Tampa Bay in Game 7 and edged out his hometown team.
“Confidence,” Paul said when asked what he noticed upon arrival. “And just to be able to do it, whatever the cost.”
Clinging to the vague nomenclature that accompanies playoff injuries (dysentery, for example, could simply be classified as a lower body disease), Paul said he felt “goosebumps” after Avalanche defenseman Josh Manson’s push sent him to a “funny” bone,” which is a euphemism for the right knee. The sensation that swept through the body made skating not so much an inconvenience as an excess. But it was enough for him to take a pass from Ross Colton in the slot in the 86th second of the second period on his first back shift and go past Colorado goaltender Darcy Kemper.
“You see some plays start to follow your script and all of a sudden you are under your feet,” Stamkos said. “It’s like you just feel lighter there.”
Two more Lightning goals followed in the next 10 minutes or so, banishing Kemper to the bench, and now it was Colorado’s turn to take a break and recalibrate. This Avalanche team is, in a way, like the nascent Lightning—filled with speed and skill, but not yet confirmed as a champion.
In the last playoff scoring record in the NHL, Colorado won their first two games of the second round against Vegas 10-3. He then lost the next four. In the first two games of that Finals, Colorado beat Tampa Bay 11–3. Now, with an aura of invincibility pierced and an unresolved goalie situation heading into Game 4 on Wednesday night, the Avalanche will look to avoid a similar collapse.
“We’ll be back,” Avalanche captain Gabriel Landeskog said, “and everything will be fine.”
May be. Probably no. The Rangers, who expressed the same conviction in the Eastern Conference Finals, scored all five goals, losing four in a row. Avalanche has become a stronger opponent, but Lightning has remained the same. Champions once, twice, and, except for an unsightly hesitation, with their dynastic aspirations, real and intact.