Game 4 loss gives Lightning chance to win Stanley Cup in front of home fans

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MONTREAL — For a fanbase that was forced to watch the Tampa Bay Lightning hoist the Stanley Cup in a pandemic bubble several thousand kilometres away from home last year, this could be a shot at a do-over.

When Montreal’s Josh Anderson scored in overtime to give the Canadiens a 3-2 win in Game 4 Monday and avoid a sweep – a glimmer of hope in the Stanley Cup final for the sport's most decorated franchise – it meant hockey’s holy grail would be headed to Tampa for Game 5 on Wednesday.

Ten months after Tampa defeated the Dallas Stars in the 2020 Stanley Cup final in Edmonton, Lightning fans have a chance to celebrate again, but this time in the same building as their hockey heroes.

It may be fate, suggested Tampa Bay coach Jon Cooper.

“Our fans deserve this, but there’s no guarantees,” said Cooper, who would become the second coach in the NHL's salary cap era to win the Cup in back-to-back seasons. “It’s weird, maybe it’s set up, maybe this is the way it was meant to be. And that’s how it’s going to play out.

“But two teams still got to play the games. The game’s decided in the trenches and hopefully we can give our fans that gift.”

A Lightning win in Game 5 would also allow players the opportunity to celebrate with their loved ones. Family members were not given an exemption by the Canadian government to cross the border for Game 4.

By no means did the Lightning want to lose the encounter in Montreal, despite the tongue-in-cheek remarks Sunday by Tampa mayor Jane Castor, who encouraged the Bolts to “take it a little bit easy” at the Bell Centre in order to win it at Amalie Arena.

It's something Cooper and his players repeatedly dismissed in the lead-up to Monday’s game.

But that doesn’t change the fact that the stage is now set for roughly 17,000 fans – with a few of them likely to be Florida-dwelling Canadiens supporters – to witness a Cup-clinching victory.

“Any fan of any team, if you gave them the option to win the Stanley Cup or you got to take your chances, I think the fanbase would have loved if we would have come home with a Stanley Cup tonight,” said Cooper. “That’s paramount.

“I think it’s icing on the cake if you can do it at home. You have ample time to celebrate with the fans when you win a Stanley Cup. We can’t hang our hats saying, ‘because we’re going home, it gives us an edge.’”

But Tampa would have an edge if this post-season run is any indication. The Bolts have won five straight at home, where they are 8-1-2 overall during the playoffs. They also have yet to lose two playoff games in a row since last year.

If fans in the seats is a bonus for the Bolts, the focus simply remains on winning the next game, says Tampa winger Barclay Goodrow.

“We would have wanted to win tonight,” said Goodrow, who scored to make it 1-1 in the second period of Game 4. “But that didn’t happen. They’re a very good team. They’re here for a reason. Their backs were against the wall and they gave it a push. This game’s over with. We’re focusing on Game 5, going back home and recharging the batteries. We’ll be ready to go for Game 5.

“In the past we’ve done a good job of leaving the previous game in the past. If we’re coming off a loss. We have a great leadership group with their minds in the right spot.”

One thing Lightning fans will need to be mindful of heading into Wednesday’s game is Tropical Storm Elsa, which is tracking toward Florida's west coast.

A tropical storm warning was issued Monday for Tampa and surrounding counties.

A Major League Baseball game between Cleveland and the Tampa Bay Rays, originally scheduled for Tuesday, was postponed due to the storm.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published July 5, 2021.

Kelsey Patterson, The Canadian Press

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