Tampa Bay Lightning hit back after heavy loss to cut Stanley Cup final deficit

The Tampa Bay Lightning’s bid for a three-peat is alive and well.

With Steven Stamkos, Nikita Kucherov, Victor Hedman and Andrei Vasilevskiy leading the way, the star-laden, two-time defending champions beat the Colorado Avalanche 6-2 Monday night in Game 3 of the Stanley Cup final.

The victory, two nights after suffering the most lopsided loss in the team’s playoff history, trimmed Tampa Bay’s series deficit to 2-1 and breathed hope in the team’s quest to become the first franchise in nearly 40 years to win three consecutive NHL titles.

“There’s a reason why we’re here and there’s a reason why we won tonight. There’s a reason why this has gone on for the last couple of years,” Lightning coach Jon Cooper said.

“The guys you need to lead you have been doing that, and then everybody falls in line,” Cooper added. “You watch Stammer’s growth and Hedman’s growth through the years, and it’s probably not a coincidence that winning has followed us.”

Stamkos, Pat Maroon and Ondrej Palat each had a goal and an assist, and the Lightning scored four times in the second period to bounce back from an embarrassing 7-0 loss in Game 2 of the best-of-seven matchup.

Anthony Cirelli, Nicholas Paul and Corey Perry also scored to help Tampa Bay storm back after playing poorly while losing the first two games on the road. Kucherov and Hedman had two assists, and Vasilevskiy stopped 37 shots.

“I don’t know why we started the series the way we did. … But any way you slice it, it’s 2-1 now,” Stamkos said.

“A big part, too, is our goaltender,” Cooper added. “For him to go through what he went through two nights ago and then perform like he did tonight … not only that, but to have them score first and then have the team to respond and back him up, I guess that’s how you get to the places that we’ve been.”

Stamkos, Paul, Maroon and Perry scored in the second period, when the Lightning chased Colorado goalie Darcy Kuemper while pulling away.

Gabriel Landeskog had two goals and Mikko Rantanen and Cale Maker each had two assists for the Avalanche. Kuemper gave up five goals on 22 shots before he was replaced by Pavel Francouz, who finished with nine saves.

Game 4 is on Wednesday night at Amalie Arena, where the Lightning have won a franchise-record eight straight playoff games and Colorado lost on the road for the first time this postseason.

“Right now I feel like we’re still in the driver’s seat up 2-1,” Avalanche star Nathan MacKinnon said. “We’ve got to really show up for Game 4, regroup, be better and stay even-keeled.”