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In their own words: The Lightning talk about the Game Seven victory

On Toronto’s future, Vasilevskiy, Point’s injury, and the Florida Panthers

Tampa Bay Lightning v Toronto Maple Leafs - Game Seven Photo by Mark Blinchj/NHLI via Getty Images

Following their Game Seven instant classic, members of the Tampa Bay Lightning sat down to discuss the win over the Toronto Maple Leafs and the series as a whole.

Their responses have been edited for clarity.

Ross Colton and Victor Hedman

How did you get over the hump tonight?

[Hedman] Dedication. The last period shows what we’re all about. It wasn’t the prettiest but we locked it down. We had some good chances at the beginning of the third we could have buried. We battled through that PK and then we were blocking shots, in shooting lanes, and Vasy had some big saves. Great feeling.

What did it mean to have Brayden Point come back out on the bench?

[Hedman]: It says everything about our group. Everyone wants to be in the fight. It doesn’t matter how many shifts you get or if you’re not playing at all. You saw Stammer in the bubble and last year we were battling through some injuries as well. His presence on the bench, he’ll probably say he was a cheerleader, you need that. He was a great motivator. With the “D” he was back there cheering us on. That goes a long way and says everything about our group. We’re a close-knit group, we’ve been through a lot together. It’s a great feeling coming out on top.

What did you see from the Maple Leafs?

[Hedman]: Unbelievable team. Tough fought series, close games. Maybe not on the scoreboard every time , but it was a close fought series. They’ve got some unbelievable players. They were fighting hard, it was a close game today and could have gone either way. They’re a great group. Their best players are still very young for this league and they’re going to get another chance at this. We’re very happy to come out on top of this, but they’re a great team and are going to go a long way in the future.

How much do you fall back on the experience of this group?

[Colton]: We’ve been battle tested the last two years and we just try not to get phased by big situations like this. We knew the crowd was going to be loud, that they were going to have an early push. We stuck to the game plan, tried to get pucks deep and tried to not play out of ourselves. It was nice to get that early one and just play our game. It just goes to show we have such great leaders in the room that are vocal and bring us together in these situations. Guys don’t get phased. It goes a long way when Victor, Steven, guys like that, are vocal in the room.

The “Charge Through That Door” quote from Cooper

[Hedman]: I didn’t see that quote, but that’s what he said. For us, we can’t look back. Obviously what we accomplished the last two seasons is unreal. When you have these opportunities you don’t want to waste these opportunities. We still have a great team - best goalie in the league. We got new guys coming in, Nicky Paul scoring two goals today. Hags, Ross was with us last year. It’s different guys. We’ve been battle tested.

Even though we’ve won two straight Cups it doesn’t matter. We don’t take this easy. I’ve been in this league long enough to know these chances don’t come around too often. You’ve got to take advantage when you have the opportunity. You have the team, you have the kind of group we have, you can’t let it go to waste. Those other two are in the rearview mirror and we’re looking forward. For us, one round is accomplished, now we’re looking forward to another great battle against our state rivals.

The performance of Andrei Vasilevskiy

[Hedman]: We’re spoiled. I think everyone is spoiled watching him play. It’s easy to look at the stats and everything, but some saves he’s made throughout the series have been key. I think it was Game Two, he made that blocker save, and then the shift after we made it 2-0. Key moments, small details in the game have a huge impact on the series. We’ve been spoiled in elimination games like this that he has a shutout. He gave up one today, but he was on top of his game. It felt like he was seeing the puck really well and made some big time saves. We’re spoiled to have him back there.

Getting to take on the Panthers again

[Colton]: We saw them a lot last year and whenever we play them it’s a tough test. Watching them against the [Washington] Capitals I thought the series could have gone either way. We know what to expect from them, it’s probably going to be a grind. Right now we just want to enjoy this moment, but come tomorrow we’ve got to go right back to work. They’re going to have some bad blood from last year. We can’t overlook them.

Did it come down to a two-time champion going against a team still trying to figure it out?

[Hedman]: It’s easy to say now, but I don’t think that. It’s a new season, new series. You can look at history, but a few guys weren’t a part of what we accomplished last year, and a few guys on their team weren’t here last year. At the end of the day it’s easy to look at it that way. I think everyone agrees that looking at this series, before it even started, probably had seven games written all over it. It was that close and it came down to a one-goal game at the end. They’re a great team, and like I said, their future looks bright. They’re divisional rivals and as long as I play, you want to beat them, that’s the bottom line. They’ve got a great team and the future looks bright.

Does Nick Paul’s demeanor let him shine in the postseason?

[Colton]: He’s a gamer, that’s the best way to describe him. He lives for these big moments. We acquired him for a reason and you see that today. Playing with him and Hags, they’re new to this situation, but both of them have stepped in from day one and have made an immediate impact. Both have great personalities and both are confident coming out there. I don’t think they got phased by the moment at all. Both rose to the occasion, you saw that with Paulie tonight. Hopefully they keep building on it, but we’ love what we’ve seen.

Nick Paul and Steven Stamkos

[Video starts after question is asked]

[Stamkos]: Just lean on some past experience knowing this was going to be a tight game. Game Sevens, we’ve played quite a few of them and they’ve been 1-0, 2-1, 2-0, they’ve all been so tight. That was the expectation coming in, you gotta play that way. You’ve gotta have that ability to just grind it out. Obviously, Vasy huge game, Paulie unbelievable game. We lose Pointer early and that’s a huge, I can’t say how big of a loss that is for our group. You guys understand that. In a Game Seven, you just have to give the group credit. They battled hard and did everything you want to do in these situations and we got rewarded.

Can you relate to what Point went through?

[Stamkos]: There’s no worse feeling as a player then not being out there with the guys in games like this. It’s the most nerve-wracking thing in hockey is watching your teammates go and you can’t help them out. Especially when you have a player like Pointer who’s a warrior on the ice, does so many good things and little things for our group. Just to see him in pain it’s tough. Give our group a lot of credit. It could have been a night where you just said, ‘Oh Pointer’s done, it’s going to be one of those nights,’ but we just didn’t. We fell back on the standard that’s set for this group. Do whatever it takes, doesn’t matter who does it, when, why, it’s just win. It’s certainly a contagious feeling and attitude. I’m very proud of this group, but it’s just one. We want to keep going.

As Toronto guys what does it mean to win here?

[Paul]: Growing up, going to the Leafs game, even in the warm-ups they had the chants going. The electricity in this building was nuts. To come in and work as hard as we did, there was no doubt in our game. We stuck together as a team and everyone brought their “A” game - blocking shots, being detailed, being hard on pucks, winning their battles. To pull one out in a building like this, especially being from here with family in the stands. It was a big one.

What was your mentality coming into Game Seven?

[Paul]: Everything is on the line, it’s Game Seven. I’m not going to change the way I’ve been playing. I’ve been playing my heart out, having chances and tonight they happened to go in. It’s the plays that happen around it. Killer, on the second one, made the one big hit and puck came loose. Sergy making a block on the first one into the corner. It goes the other way, guys driving [the net]. It’s a team game. I was the one that put it into the net, but it was everyone on the ice making the plays happen. Everyone brought their “A” game, everyone was ready, and everyone was confident. We knew we were coming out to win that game and we came together and we did it.

What did you see out of the Leafs?

[Stamkos]: It’s a great hockey team, no doubt. They’ve got all of the pieces, just, it’s not easy. It’s not easy this time of the year. We’ve talked about it as a group before. We’ve had some failures in the past and you just move on. You just gotta get over that hump, that’s the thing. Sometimes it becomes mental. It certainly wasn’t because they’re not worthy of it, they are. That was one of the toughest series we’ve probably played. They’ve got the star players, they’ve got the goaltender, they’ve got some solid defensemen. You go down the list, they have everything.

We just believed in ourselves too. We knew it was going to be a long series. We talked about it from the start. We didn’t have our game early, but as the series progressed, we felt that confidence. We believe in this group. Game Sevens can go either way. For us to come into this building, to have one of our best players, our engine up front in Pointer go down early, and guys just stick with it, that’s a great sign. I can’t reiterate enough how proud I am of the group, but we’ve got to keep the train moving.

A chance to play the Florida Panthers again in the playoffs

[Stamkos]: It’s certainly when things get interesting, rivalries are born, play teams multiple times in the playoffs. Our division was crazy this year. You beat a team like Toronto that was a Top Five team this year, then you got the best team in the regular season in the second round. It’s a shame that these teams are out early, but that’s the way it’s set up. We know what it’s going to be. That was one heck of a series last year in the first round. We have another unbelievable series this year. You can’t let the emotions of this series [carry over]. You’ve gotta feel good about yourself tonight. We fly home tonight and I think we fly out to Florida tomorrow night. So it’s foot on the gas, that’s the playoffs. It’s going to be a heck of a series.

The motivation of the three-peat

[Stamkos]: I think something that doesn’t get mentioned is some of the players, like Paulie, weren’t here the past couple of years. So that’s motivation. Let’s get these guys a chance for a Cup. I know Perrs [Corey Perry] has one, but lets get him another one. Lets get Belly [Pierre-Edouard Bellemare] one. Brian Elliott, Hags, the list goes on. That’s part of the motivating factor. Once you put that Bolts uniform on we know what we’ve accomplished the last two years, but it’s a new year. It’s going to be as hard as ever, as we saw with this series. It’s there in the back of your mind for sure, but we want to win with this group, and these guys. It was a good start.

Jon Cooper

Experience vs a team still trying to figure things out

That was as evenly matched a series as you’re going to see. Adversity rears its head in so many different ways and sometimes an urgency that’s already there, it kicks something into gear. The Leafs came out in that period and they had a good start. We kind of had to weather that storm. When Pointer got hurt it seemed to lock the entire team in and I don’t think we looked back after that. I don’t think you have done what we’ve done the last couple of years unless you have players that can respond the way they did and they’ve done it time and time again. Now you shouldn’t be surprised they did it.

Was the ability to defend the net more like the championship Lightning hockey?

Basically, all twenty guys you might as well put “88” on their back. That’s what they were doing, they were fully committed to blocking shots. When you play with that passion usually good things happen. In saying that, you still have to get the lead, and I thought the big thing for was [Morgan] Reilly scores and Paul answers three minutes later. So we never gave them the chance to get any momentum going. I thought that was a huge part of the game.

Any update on Point’s status?

I don’t. Everybody saw what happened and he gave it a go. He was not going to the room, he was going to stay on the bench the whole time, but he couldn’t go.

What did you see out of the Leafs?

I’m not in that room. I coach the Tampa Bay Lightning. I know some of their players. I’ve been behind a bench with Morgan Reilly. I’ve been behind a bench with Mitch Marner. I’ve been behind a bench with Auston Matthews. If those guys became available I’d be first in line to put them on my team. This wasn’t a 4-0 sweep. We were down 3-2 in the series and found a way. It was as close as it can be.

I’ve personally answered the same questions the same questions they’re going to answer three years ago. Maybe in a different way I guess because we’d gone to a final a few years earlier. They gave us everything we could handle. The bottom line is there were eight teams over 100 points in the Eastern Conference, three of them went to Game Sevens and the President Trophy [the Panthers] went to overtime and had to battle back to win their series. That’s how even it was. There were going to be four teams with 100+ points out of the first round. Fortunately for us we weren’t one of them. It took everything to knock these guys out.

Sometimes coaching is knowing when to get out of the way

Pointer forced my had so I actually had to participate tonight. I don’t want to sit here and say you throw the game plan out of the window, but when guys are laying out and fully committed to keeping pucks out of the net you, some of that is game plan, but a lot of that is heart. The boys showed a lot heart tonight.

Vasilevskiy

Yeah, he’s a winner. I could tell early he was dialed in more than any game in this series. He was seeing pucks and tracking them. If pucks were getting through guys laying out he was there for us. He’s obviously a big reason why we won.

Another crack at Florida.

Hard to say. Florida is a hell of a team. We’ve watched them all year and had some amazing battles with them. I think people, especially in Florida, have been begging for the two teams to be contenders and go at it. I think last year many people said that might have been the series of the playoffs. They’ve retooled their team and brought some big names in there and it should be a ton of fun. They’re fun to play against, it’s competitive as hell, and I think it’s really good for hockey.