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The Tampa Bay Lightning are after their 3rd Stanley Cup in a row


The NHL Eastern Conference Finals are now tied two games each. That's after the Tampa Bay Lightning beat the New York Rangers 4 to 1 last night.


UNIDENTIFIED ANNOUNCER: He puts it right on the stick of Kucherov again, and he scores.

PFEIFFER: The Lightning are going for their third straight Stanley Cup title, and hockey fans have seen Tampa battle back a lot in recent years. Emily Kaplan certainly has. She covers hockey for ESPN, and she's with us now live. Hi, Emily.

EMILY KAPLAN: Hi, Sacha. How are you?

PFEIFFER: I'm good. And, Emily, just a few days ago, the Lightning were down two games to none. They really seem to specialize in comebacks.

KAPLAN: They really do. You know, this is - they're going for their third straight Stanley Cup, which is pretty incredible in the salary cap era, which has evened the playing field. The NHL now has 32 teams, which has watered down the market. So the fact that they've been able to do this year after year and discount so many people is honestly historic to watch.

PFEIFFER: Emily, you recently wrote that this team has, quote, "a level of trust and confidence that they can get through any opponent." It sounds like you think they have something special.

KAPLAN: They do. I think a lot of it begins with the construction of their team. Their general manager, Julien BriseBois, did a very good job of finding the right character guys that can plug in. Their coach, Jon Cooper, is amongst the best in the league at X's and O's, but also, again, getting that buy-in. They've got the best goaltender in Andrei Vasilevskiy, one of the top defensemen in Victor Hedman. They've got some star forwards. But really it's that mentality to back-checking and defense and those intangibles that allow them just to win these games when, again, a lot of people are counting them out.

PFEIFFER: So Game 5 is tomorrow in New York. It's Tampa Bay versus New York. The series is now tied up. What do you think fans can expect to see?

KAPLAN: I think they can expect a really tightly contested battle. Home ice advantage has really mattered in these playoffs more than any other year, it seems. And so I do think that the Rangers are going to be energized by the crowd at Madison Square Garden. But right now, both teams' energy levels are at the right place because, entering the series, the Tampa Bay Lightning have nine days' rest between their last series because they swept their last opponent, and it was hard for them to get their legs at first. The Rangers, who are a young team, definitely had their legs. And now things are even, so it really could go anyone's way.

PFEIFFER: I know a lot of sports reporters have different feelings about predicting, but are you comfortable rating their chances at taking the third straight Stanley Cup in your view?

KAPLAN: You know, before the season, I did make a prediction that I picked the Colorado Avalanche to win the Stanley Cup, but I did have the Tampa Bay Lightning emerging in the East. And that's the way that I think it's trending. The Colorado Avalanche already punched their ticket after sweeping the Edmonton Oilers in the Western Conference Final. And I just think that that grizzled Tampa Bay experience - they realize that their Stanley Cup window is closing. That third Stanley Cup in a row is so historic in the Stanley Cup era that I do think that they have that savvy to get past the Rangers.

PFEIFFER: And, Emily, I have a question. Because you're a sideline reporter on ESPN covering these games, sometimes in the middle of these tense games, you have to go interview these head coaches. Do you generally find them receptive to that? Do you cringe a bit when you walk up to ask questions? Or what is that like asking in the middle of a game?

KAPLAN: You know, it's challenging because I have a such a tight window, and my biggest fear is having that interview run over a goal and robbing the fan of that moment. At the same time, our goal is to grow the game. We always talk about that in hockey, and I think one of hockey's biggest issues has always been accessibility. So if I can get a coach to explain something that we're seeing better or give fans something to look for, I think that's really cool, and I think the coaches are pretty receptive to that.

PFEIFFER: That's ESPN's Emily Kaplan. Emily, thank you.

KAPLAN: Thanks, Sacha.

(SOUNDBITE OF JAY DEE SONG, "THINK TWICE") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Sacha Pfeiffer is a correspondent for NPR's Investigations team and an occasional guest host for some of NPR's national shows.
Gus Contreras
[Copyright 2024 NPR]

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