DENVER– The Colorado Avalanche know it’s coming. They know the Tampa Bay Lightning are coming.
If there is anything the Avalanche can learn from the past, it’s that the Lightning won’t fold. It’s not how they got to their third straight Stanley Cup Final. It’s not how they won the Stanley Cup in two consecutive seasons. It’s not how they came back from losing Game 1 of the Eastern Conference First Round against the Toronto Maple Leafs and Games 1 and 2 of the conference final against the New York Rangers.
So, the Avalanche said they know they need to be prepared ahead of Game 2 of the Cup Final at Ball Arena on Saturday (8 pm ET; ABC, ESPN+, CBC, SN, TVAS) after a 4-3 overtime win here Wednesday.
“We focus on our game,” Colorado coach Jared Bednar said Thursday. “We look at that game last night; we liked large portions of it, didn’t like portions of it. Some of the things [there] that we can correct.
“Regardless of how Tampa plays, we have a certain identity that we need to play to be successful. We’ve learned that during the course of this season especially. And then for me, it’s just like managing those momentum swings.”
[RELATED: Stanley Cup Final coverage | Stanley Cup Final schedule]
But the Avalanche have also been studying.
With eight days off between completing a four-game sweep in the Western Conference Final on June 6 and the start of the Cup Final, they had time to pick apart what the Maple Leafs and Rangers had done well against the Lightning, what allowed them to take leads in the two series — and where those teams fell short in the end.
“I would say we learned a lot,” Bednar said “We looked at all their playoff series. That’s where we spent the bulk of our time going into this. We saw the success that the Rangers had in Game 1 and 2, also looked at reasons that we felt why they didn’t have so much success as the series went on.
“Tampa looked like they got stronger and stronger in a bunch of different areas. They’re really comfortable playing in those tight-checking games. I think the more controlled, tight-checking game on their side favors them.”
Bednar said Colorado has seen particular parallels with Toronto, which took Tampa Bay to the limit before a 2-1 loss in Game 7. The way the Maple Leafs play, in many respects, mirrors that of the Avalanche, and the coach said he knew he could learn from it and hopefully apply that to this series.
“One of the teams that we looked at closely, and I spent a lot of time on, was the Leafs,” Bednar said. “It was obviously a great series, it was a dynamic series. And I see a lot of similarities in the Leafs’ play, personnel, to ours. And some of the things that they do with the puck in their offensive strategy, structure, tactics, whatever you want to call it, there’s a lot of similarities.
“We learned that from playing against them this year. So, they have a lot of success. It’s tough to get that timely goal against [goalie Andrei] Vasilevskiy and Tampa, the way they defend. But they had some really strong pushes throughout that pushes that we looked at really closely.”
Video: Amalie Benjamin with the latest on the Avalanche
Beyond learning from the Maple Leafs is a recommitment to what the Avalanche themselves have done well this season. They have put a particular emphasis on segmenting the game into five-minute portions that they can easily come back from if they’ve given them away.
“It’s huge,” captain Gabriel Landeskog said. “I don’t think that’s uncommon, but you’ve got to narrow your focus down and if you just go out there and try to win this game, that’s a lot easier said than done. Staying in the present, staying in the moment , focusing on your next shift, that’s super important.
“You have to be able to manage your emotions, and sometimes you have a bad five-minute segment and you’ve got to be able to reset and sometimes seeing that clock clicking down to the next TV timeout, you want to reset and go back at it. I think that’s important.”
The Lightning have been in this scenario before, against the Maple Leafs and Rangers, but so too have the Avalanche. Bednar recalled the second round, when Colorado opened the series with a 3-2 overtime win against the St. Louis Blues. The Avalanche followed with a 4-1 loss here in Game 2 and needed six to advance.
“We have to be aware that we had a letdown in that game against St. Louis,” Bednar said. “We don’t hide from it. We didn’t play well in that game at all.”
But Bednar said he believes his team has learned from that experience and is approaching Saturday differently.
“I don’t see why there’s any reason why we have a letdown going into Game 2 knowing the importance of the game,” Bednar said.