After logging 18 points in 59 games for Ottawa, Paul had 14 in 21 regular-season games with the Lightning. In the primary round against Toronto, Paul scored Tampa Bay’s only two goals of Game 7 to oust his hometown team.
“The boldness,” Paul said, when asked what he noticed upon arriving. “And just with the ability to get it done irrespective of what it takes.”
Clinging to the vague nomenclature that accompanies playoff injuries — dysentery, as an illustration, is perhaps classified as merely a lower-body ailment — Paul said he felt “pins and needles” after a shove from Avalanche defenseman Josh Manson sent him careering onto his “funny bone,” which is sort of the euphemism for right knee. The feeling that rippled through rendered the act of skating less an inconvenience than an extravagance. However it abated enough for him, on his first shift back, to take a pass from Ross Colton within the slot 86 seconds into the second period and whip a shot past Colorado goalie Darcy Kuemper.
“You see some plays begin to go your way, and swiftly you get your feet beneath you,” Stamkos said. “It’s almost like you only feel lighter on the market.”
Two more Lightning goals followed in the subsequent 10 or so minutes, banishing Kuemper to the bench, and now it’s Colorado’s turn to reel, rest and recalibrate. This Avalanche team, in a way, evokes the nascent Lightning — loaded with speed and skill but lacking, as of yet, the validation of a championship.
Last postseason, after tying for essentially the most points within the N.H.L., Colorado won its first two second-round games against Vegas by a 10-3 margin. It then lost the subsequent 4. In the primary two games of those finals, Colorado outscored Tampa Bay by 11-3. Now, with its aura of invincibility pierced and an unsettled goalie situation heading into Game 4 on Wednesday night, the Avalanche will attempt to avoid an analogous meltdown.
“We’ll be back,” the Avalanche captain, Gabriel Landeskog, said, “and we’ll be positive.”
Possibly. Possibly not. The Rangers, after expressing the identical conviction across the Eastern Conference finals, scored all of 5 goals in losing 4 straight. The Avalanche are a stronger adversary, however the Lightning remain as they ever were. Champions once, twice, and, other than an unsightly wobble, with their dynastic aspirations real and intact.