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The Tampa Bay Lightning are back in the Stanley Cup Final for the third consecutive time and are looking to complete the NHL’s first three-peat since the New York Islanders won four straight from 1980 to 1983.
The Islanders comparisons are going to be a key part of the storyline for Tampa Bay heading into the final against the Colorado Avalanche and leading the praise is Wayne Gretzky, as “The Great One” compared the resiliency of the Lightning to that of the Islanders of the 1980s.
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“Their resilience is a lot like that team, the Islanders of the 80s in a sense that, they can play you skating, they can play you defensive, they can play you physical. And like Billy Smith, like Grant Fuhr, this goalie ( Andrei Vasilevskiy) is really special,” Gretzky told The Athletic in a story published Monday.
“The bigger the game, the better he seems to play. They have it in their minds that they can’t lose. And their work ethic is extraordinary. You watch them play, they play hard every shift. They play unselfish.”
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Tampa Bay came back from a 2-0 deficit in the Eastern Conference final to beat the New York Rangers. The team also faced a 3-2 deficit against the Toronto Maple Leafs before coming back to win the first-round series.
Even when faced with injuries, the Lightning have broken through time and again. Brayden Point hasn’t played since the Game 7 win over the Maple Leafs, while others have taken their bumps and bruises.
“When you get knocked around, when you get knocked down that many times and the team still comes back, you know you’ve got something. It just took us some time,” Lightning coach Jon Cooper said, via the Tampa Bay Times. “And know they’re back and they just keep coming back. To back. To back.
“It’s so awesome to be a part of. But it takes a lot of belief, a lot of courage and a group from the owner all the way down to stick together.”
Colorado will have the tough task to stop the Lightning’s experienced offense and get through goaltender Vasilevskiy. The Avalanche swept the Edmonton Oilers on their way to their first Stanley Cup appearance since 2001.
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Game 1 is set for Wednesday at 8 p.m. ET in Denver.