After logging 18 points in 59 games for Ottawa, Paul had 14 in 21 regular-season games with the Lightning. In the first round against Toronto, Paul scored Tampa Bay’s only two goals of Game 7 to oust his hometown team.
“The confidence,” Paul said, when asked what he noticed upon arriving. “And just being able to get it done no matter what it takes.”
Clinging to the vague nomenclature that accompanies playoff injuries — dysentery, for instance, might be 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 quite the euphemism for right knee. The sensation that rippled through rendered the act of skating less an inconvenience than an extravagance. But it abated enough for him, on his first shift back, to take a pass from Ross Colton in the slot 86 seconds into the second period and whip a shot past Colorado goalie Darcy Kuemper.
“You see some plays start to go your way, and all of a sudden you get your feet beneath you,” Stamkos said. “It’s almost like you just feel lighter out there.”
Two more Lightning goals followed in the next 10 or so minutes, banishing Kuemper to the bench, and now it is Colorado’s turn to reel, rest and recalibrate. This Avalanche team, in a sense, evokes the nascent Lightning — loaded with speed and skill but lacking, as of yet, the validation of a championship.
Last postseason, after tying for the most points in the N.H.L., Colorado won its first two second-round games against Vegas by a 10-3 margin. It then lost the next four. In the first two games of these 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 try to avoid a similar meltdown.
“We’ll be back,” the Avalanche captain, Gabriel Landeskog, said, “and we’ll be fine.”
Maybe. Maybe not. The Rangers, after expressing the same conviction across the Eastern Conference finals, scored all of five goals in losing four straight. The Avalanche are a more potent adversary, but the Lightning remain as they ever were. Champions once, twice, and, aside from an unsightly wobble, with their dynastic aspirations real and intact.