CHICAGO — You don’t win championships without depth. The Tampa Bay Lightning were carried offensively through three rounds thanks to their top two lines, but now a pair of third liners are providing some scoring depth at the right time, which is why they hold a 2-1 series lead in the Stanley Cup Final against the Chicago Blackhawks.
Through 23 playoff games, the Lightning have scored 63 goals. Of those 63 goals, 49 have been recorded by their top-six forwards. In Games 2 and 3 of the Stanley Cup Final, three of their seven scores have come from outside those two lines, led by Cedric Paquette who has a pair.
It’s not like the Lightning are being carried by their depth now, but they’re picking a great time to come out of hibernation.
“You look at the guys that stepped up tonight, you look at [Ryan Callahan], you look at [J.T. Brown], you look at [Cedric Paquette], those are the guys that are finally being rewarded for how hard they’re working,” said Steven Stamkos after Game 3. “This team isn’t a one-trick pony. We have guys that step up when needed.”
Callahan signed a six-year, $34.8 million contract after being acquired for Martin St. Louis last season. The former New York Rangers captain had expectations placed upon him to help Tampa’s secondary scoring after averaging 20 goals a year over his final six seasons in the Big Apple. After netting 24 during his first full season with the Lightning he went goalless in the playoffs until Game 6 of the Eastern Conference Final, all while recovering from an emergency appendectomy needed during Round 2. He's chipped in a goal and three assists the last two games against the Blackhawks.
“You always put pressure on yourself to contribute and put points up and help on the scoresheet,” Callahan said. “It’s definitely an area we need to improve on and we have to do that in order for us to have success.”
The biggest gains have come from 21-year old Cedric Paquette, the forward tasked with the Jonathan Toews assignment and a pest of the highest order -- just ask Brian Boyle. He opened the scoring in the Lightning’s Game 2 win and put home the winner Monday night in Game 3. After spending time in the AHL during the regular season and watching two playoff games from the press box as a healthy scratch, the Gaspe, Quebec native is taking advantage of the opportunity.
"I was really frustrated. My playoff wasn’t going the way I wanted,” he said after Game 2. “I scored a couple of goals in the season and I wanted to help the team offensively. Coop told us, ‘you know, you guys need to chip in if we want to win that Cup,’ and [we have.]”
"I can't say enough honestly. He's been stepping up these three games. I don't think anybody saw that coming and it's really fun to watch,” said Anton Stralman. “We knew he was a big player for us, really solid defensively and going up against the best centerman in the league and doing that job unbelievably well. It's really fun to see.”
When your top players are being held in check offensively (hello, Stamkos, Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews), you look to those secondary contributors to step up. Through three games, both teams have needed that, but Tampa’s have risen to the occasion at the right time.
“There has just been a resiliency in this group, a quiet confidence that no matter what the situation - and it has grown each and every round - it’s just snowballing right now the confidence this team has in any situation,” Stamkos said.
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