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In their own words: The Lightning talk about the series win

Shot blocks and lessons learned

NHL: Tampa Bay Lightning at Florida Panthers Sam Navarro-USA TODAY Sports

Following their Game Four win that clinched their series over the Florida Panthers, members of the Tampa Bay Lightning talked about the win, blocking shots, Andrei Vasilevskiy, and their spot in the record books.

Responses are edited for clarity.

Steven Stamkos and Andrei Vasilevskiy

Words to describe Vasilevskiy

[Stamkos]: [Chuckles] We didn’t want to waste that game that he played. We knew they were going to push and they did. They played outstanding, threw a lot of pucks on net. There he was - Vasy - like he always is in these big games.

It was a tough game in terms of we were up 3-0 [in the series] and we know we have a chance and we came out a little flat. Vasy gave us a chance to hang around. We think we score a couple that get disallowed and you think, ‘Is this going to be one of those games?”

We stuck around long enough to get a big goal, and the P.K. at the end. We talked about it, we didn’t want to waste this performance by Vasy. What an effort by him tonight.

The overturned goals

[Stamkos]: The wait on that first one was just agonizing. We had a sense, I mean I still haven’t seen a replay, but guys were saying before that it probably hit the mesh. The second one we kinda knew. So it’s not like we knew we had those goals for sure, there was a good possibility they were going to be called back. Just one of those games were our goaltender stood on his head and gave us a chance and we found a way.

Vasy’s focus in elimination games

[Vasilevskiy]: No, nothing special. I think it’s the way the whole team is playing in those games. The whole series was just constant blocked shots, sacrifices. The boys literally breaking bones to stop pucks. Such a great effort by everybody on the team. Obviously, it’s not just me. I’m just trying to do my job as best as I can. They guys, all four games, I thought they played fearless.

Pride in being a difference maker

[Vasilevskiy]: It’s my job to just give our boys the chance to win and we’ve done a pretty good job doing that the whole series. Game One, Game Two, Game Three, obviously Game Four, it’s all tight games and the P.K. has been huge. Again, blocked shots, guys literally try to block shots with their faces and ankles and teeth. Just an unbelievable performance by those guys on the P.K., and the whole team.

Was it you best series performance?

[Vasilevskiy]: [Both chuckle] I thought we just answered. I’m just glad we’re winners and we didn’t have to go back to play Game Five. So, it’s one of the best. It’s our best series.

Relaxed despite such an intense game

[Vasilevskiy]: Our fans gave us so much energy throughout the playoffs, they were unbelievable once again tonight. It’s so much easier to play when there’s a good buzz at our arena. Just great energy from the boys, from the fans, and the family.

Were you afraid there would be a high stick call [on the Pat Maroon goal]

[Stamkos]: No, I think at that point we all looked at the monitors right away and realized it was good. Another big goal by Patty. He just seems to find those moments. That’s the beauty of our team - everyone contributes. That’s what you need this time of year. We talk about it all the time, but you just never know when it’s going to be your moment. The guys in this group have certainly not shied away from that and it’s been fun to be a part of.

Fitting that it bounced in off of the goalie after not getting bounces early on

[Stamkos]: You never know what it’s going to take. We played a hell of first three games of the series to give ourselves a chance to close it out today. We expected the push and it’s kind of human nature to sit back on our heels a little bit and test the waters. For whatever reason we did. We came out a little flat. It is the hardest one to win, this fourth game. You’re gonna take it however you get it and we got it.

How important was it to finish so that they could have a couple of days off?

[Stamkos]: That’s a bonus. You never come into a series and expect to win four straight. Especially against a team of that caliber. At this time of the year, guys are certainly going through a lot and sacrificing a lot, and any type of break is welcome. We have some guys a little more banged up than others, but this rest will certainly help guys get a little more healthy.

Perspective of the 10 straight series wins

[Stamkos]: I think someone mentioned that’s 14 for Maroon so he’s got a couple more than we do with this group so we got to try to catch up a little bit. Like Vasy said, it’s a special group, no doubt. The beauty of the group is that we’re not satisfied. We want 12 straight. When you take a step back and put things in perspective, especially in the salary cap world that we’re in and the parity in our league, it’s a very, very special group.

Another pretty cool thing is that it’s a different group. The core and a lot of guys have been here a long time, but there’s some new guys that are very excited to be part of it. I talked about it before the playoffs started, there’s some motivation in that too. To bring another championship back to our city and to have some guys go through what we’ve gone through the last couple of years. There’s always little things and extra motivational tactics that you can use to just feel you.

Six conference finals in eight years

[Stamkos]: We found a recipe that has allowed us to go deep into the playoffs, especially the last two-and-a-half-years now, and we want to keep it up. It’s the most fun, and gut-wrenching, nerve-wracking time of the year, but that’s just an amazing feeling. You can’t really describe it unless you go through it. This group has certainly been through it.

How nice is it to win in front of the home fans

[Vasilevskiy]: As I said, huge energy from our fans throughout the playoffs. This year, last year, and even when we were in the bubble we felt that support. We’re just happy to give them something to cheer [for] and make our city proud.

Pat Maroon and Alex Killorn

Take us through your goal

[Maroon]: It was a good forecheck, got on the forechek hard, and Bogo [Zach Bogosian] just threw the puck to the net and it kind of took a weird bounce and I was just following the puck. I got a nice little stick on it, nice little backspin on it and it went in. Obviously, I was looking at the Jumbotron to make sure. Right when I saw it I knew it wasn’t a high-stick. Good effort all around on the forecheck and just getting pucks and finding the puck.

After the overturned goals did you think it was going to take another greasy goal to get one across?

[Maroon]: When you hit a little bit of adversity with the netting and with the face-off play, you just got to stick with it. We were in a good position going into the third period, 0-0 game, we still had an opportunity to win. We just had to find a way to squeak one by him, and we did. It was an ugly goal, but that’s playoff hockey for you.

Vasilevskiy in series-clinching games

[KIllorn]: It’s pretty impressive. When we look back and we’re older that’s going to be something that stays there for a long time. It’s pretty cool to play with a player that I think will go down as one of the best goalies that’s ever played the game. That’s how you gauge players, how they preform in big time games, and he’s been nothing but tremendous in these games.

Importance of shot blocking

[Killorn]: It’s hugely important. When you look back at the series, I think there’s a couple of goals that would have, we like to think Vasy would have been there, but there were open nets. Cerny [Erik Cernak] has one, [Ryan] McDonagh has one. Huge points in the game where momentum can go either way and those blocked shots are huge. You see guys coming in and out of the locker room, putting their bodies on the lines. It’s great for our team and lifts guys up.

Confidence from having Vasilevskiy behind them in net

[KIllorn]: I think tonight’s workload was a little bit much in the sense they did get a lot of shots. They played well, we’ll give them credit. Whenever you have him you always have a chance. We’re getting better, as the Toronto series went on we got better, we got a little bit better against Florida. Maybe not our best game, but like I said, whenever you have “88” you have a chance.

Maroon’s 14th consecutive series win

[Maroon]: Yeah, I just found that out today. I’m fortunate to play with two really good teams the last few years. This team has been very impressive. The way we compete. The way we stick in there every game. We’re never out of it. Like you just touched on, we’re warriors, blocking shots, whatever it takes. The teams that do that just find a way. It’s been tremendous to watch what we’ve been through the last few years. It’s unbelievable to be a part of it. Good teams, and teams that find a way. Tampa Bay has been unbelievable with that.

How hard is it to win 10 straight

[Killorn]: Yeah, 12 would sound even better. wouldn’t it? It’s impressive. I know that Coop [Coach Jon Cooper] mentioned that, and Patty has 14 so he’s got the one up. It’s special to be a part of this group. Like I said with Vasy I think there are a lot of players on this team that will go down as some pretty good players, hall of fame players. I’m just happy to be a part of it to be honest.

Closing it out shorthanded

[Killorn]: It’s always nerve-wracking because you know they’re going to pull their goalie, they’re going to have two extra guys out there. In those situations you know you’re going to have to block shots just because they’re going to get everything to the net. We did a good job, I think the whole series we did a good job, with the P.K. That’s been getting better as the series have gone along as well. Hopefully we can continue with our P.K. in that sense.

The character of the team not to flinch after the two disallowed goals

[Maroon]: It’s a bit frustrating in the moment because it’s taking forever and we’re trying to figure out if it is a goal, if it’s not a goal, We talked about it on the bench, hey if it’s not we just have to stick with it. We had a good six minutes in the second period where we had some pressure, we had some opportunities, and we were getting rewarded. Obviously Killer would have liked that goal. It’s one of those things for our team, when adversity hits we seem to find a way. That’s a good sign, especially this time of year. You can’t control it. When you’re in that moment you can’t really control what’s going to happen. You have to stick with it, grind through it, and hopefully you get the next one.

How impressive is shutting down the Florida offense

[Maroon]: Killer touched on it. Just block shots. When you’re doing that and have to go through “88” too, it’s hard. It’s frustrating on teams when you’re clogging up the middle and guys are eating pucks and guys are finding a way. We did our scouting and we found a way to limit their high-power offense.

Tonight they brought it. Tonight we were kind of on our heels a little bit. We kind of dipped our toe in the water a little bit in the first couple of periods, but we stuck with it, we grinded through it. Vasy made some unbelievable saves. Some key kills at the right time, especially in the last two minutes and thirty seconds. Guys were laying out. I think [Mikhail] Sergachev was in the back of the net blocking shots. Just got to continue that. That’s playoff hockey. You have to do that moving forward, because we want to keep moving forward in the playoffs.

What does it mean to have an extended break?

[Maroon]: It’s been a long few years for us so it’s going to be nice to take a couple of days here. We gotta stay focused, stay on top of it, come out and practice hard. Whoever we’re going to play, we’ve got to find a way. Take the time now, but come practice time we’ve got to gear ourselves up and get ready.

Coach Jon Cooper

Is Vasilevskiy now an all-time great?

The first question is about the goaltending? [general laughter] I’m not so sure there’s much more I can say about him. It’s funny how the playoffs are. Five games into the Toronto series and you’re asking all these questions about about what’s wrong with Vasilevskiy, shocking to me. There’s never a doubt in our locker room.

A goalie’s job, if you want to be elite, is to give your team a chance to win. I think there’s big misnomer out there...you look at Grant Fuhr, and I’ve talked to Wayne Gretzky about this, Fuhr may let in five, but he gives his team a chance to win. If his team got six, that’s it, he’ll shut it down at five. He may just let in one.

It’s when your goaltender gives you a chance to win, and it comes in a variety of ways. Tonight, he wasn’t letting anything in. We’ve seen that time and time again. Even in these games in the Toronto series, we won some of those games. He just gives you a chance to win. It can probably be a little demoralizing on the other side when you look at him and you just don’t feel like you can score. Thankful for us he’s on our side. In saying that, he’ll be the first one to sit here and thank his teammates for the amount of shots that were blocked. Not only tonight, but through this series. When you’re doing that it just makes his job, may not look like it tonight, it makes it a little bit easier.

How impressed that you held the Panthers to three goals

If you were going to ask me that at the outset I probably would have laughed at you. The big thing for us though, we came into this series with a plan. The guys, to their credit, you’ve got to sacrifice so much, the bodies. That’s part of the plan so you have to do it if you want to win. These guys are playing a game right now almost like they have not won a Stanley Cup, and they’re chasing it for their first time.

The powerful offensive juggernaut that that Florida team is, a lot of things have to go your way and maybe they were off a bit, because you need that on your side too. We heard the post clank a few times. Maybe in the Washington series that one went in for them, in the Tampa series it didn’t. It’s tough when you’re used to scoring. I’ve seen it myself. When they don’t go in it can be frustrating. Let’s be honest, if you’re going to take a team out there are going to be games where you need your goaltender. Clearly he was the first, second, and third start tonight.

Could you tell he was locked in from the start?

You can, he’s been in the zone since the end of that Toronto series. Like I said, you’re playing elite teams. Florida is elite. It’s going to say 4-0 Tampa, but let’s be honest, pretty much all these games were tied going into the third. One game we had to pull out in the last nine-and-a-half seconds. This one we have to pull out when the lion’s share was played in our end. That’s how close it was.

People are going to sit here and say, ‘What happened to Florida?’ No. Bounce here, bounce there and it’s 2-2 and we’re going back to Florida at some point. Trust me, the guys are exhausted and it was only a four-game series. That’s what it takes to win. I don’t want anyone out there sitting here saying, ‘Oh my god, Tampa’s rolling through this.’ It was a tough, tough series.

Not flinching after the two goals came off the board

Because you want it so bad, and you’re thinking we’re so close, and we don’t want to jump on a plane, and we got guys banged up, and now you’re thinking, ‘Oh my god these goals are coming off the board’. Then the poor puck rolls on Pally [Ondrej Palat] and you’re like, ‘Oh my gosh now we got to kill a penalty’ with two-and-a-half-minutes left. You make your own breaks and the guys did. If that last penalty kill didn’t personify what’s going on in our playoffs, nothing does. Incredible stuff to watch, but the boys are believing and it’s great.

Stamkos leading by example with 4 blocked shots

Of course. It gets contagious. Guys start doing it. Give me another word other than commitment because I keep using it too much.

Appreciating what this team has done

It’s remarkable, it’s mind-boggling, but as Pat Maroon says to me, ‘Well Coop, I’ve won 14’. For some reason I don’t think we’re going to catch him. To think, in the history of this game, the wonderful, glorious teams that have played in years past that have made the tradition of this sport so wonderful, to sit here and think, we’re in the breath of the greatest teams that have played this game. Because that’s when you’re really measured, right? What are you doing in the playoffs? To win 10 series in a row, what does that put us? Top three all-time?

Actually it makes you think what a team that [New York] Islanders group was. What is it 19 they won? Wow, that is something else. Hopefully we’re not done with that streak, but it’s pretty cool tonight to sit back and marvel at.

Is experience that much of a difference for you guys?

Do I think it plays a part? I do. Because you have to go through the wars to see what works and what doesn’t. Again, I look back in 2015 and we had not gone through those wars and we got all the way to the [Stanley Cup] Final, but you can probably make and argument that we got out-pro’d in that 2015 Final. That was just stuff that goes in the memory bank and stuff you learn from. The only worry is you just never know when you’re going to get back, if you’re going to get back.

So when the chances come you don’t want them to slide away. We’ve had some pretty remarkable teams over the years. Some that have gotten close, but we went through the heartbreak. We lost in 2015, we lost in Game Seven of the 2016 in the Conference Final. Game Seven of the Conference Finals in 2018. Got swept in 2019, but who’s counting? [murmured laughing]

Trust me, it’s painful, but you take a little bit and you learn, including myself. I’ve learned and this team’s learned.

What did you learn from that loss to Columbus?

Well, we haven’t lost since.