NHL commissioner Gary Bettman lauds Lightning

TAMPA — When Jeff Vinik bought the Lightning in 2010, NHL commissioner Gary Bettman remembers the franchise being at its lowest point.

Looking back at his 40-plus years in sports, Bettman recalls the team being in one of the most “distressed conditions” he’s ever seen.

More than a decade later, the tables have turned as the Lightning are chasing their third straight Stanley Cup. And he couldn’t be more impressed.

“This team has been incredible,” Bettman said to a pool of reporters during Friday’s first intermission. “Look at the fan base. Look at the organization that Jeff put in place. When you look at the commitments he’s made to the community, beyond the community hero presentation. … This team is part of the fabric of this community.”

The team has come a long way in a short time. In February, the Lightning played in the franchise’s first outdoor game, beating the Predators at Nissan Stadium. In 2019, they played in their first Global Series, against the Sabres in Sweden. In 2018, Tampa Bay hosted All-Star weekend.

“Hockey has grown at all levels,” Bettman said. “This building is full night in and night out. It’s great to see, and it’s a testament to the investment and the energy and commitment that Jeff and Penny Vinik have made to Tampa.”

Campbell shows out

Toronto Maple Leafs goaltender Jack Campbell (36) makes a stop as defenseman Mark Giordano (55) defends during the third period.
Toronto Maple Leafs goaltender Jack Campbell (36) makes a stop as defenseman Mark Giordano (55) defends during the third period. [ DOUGLAS R. CLIFFORD | Times ]

Toronto goaltender Jack Campbell was tested from the start, having to stop a Brayden Point shot 13 seconds into the game. And again, with the game on the line in the third period, on a Steven Stamkos one-timer.

If Toronto advances, it could wind up being the biggest save of the series.

“That’s a game-saving save,” coach Sheldon Keefe said. “…And I think there was a bit of a sense on the bench that it was going in. Stamkos doesn’t miss those very much when it comes through like that, but obviously Jack is well aware that’s a legitimate threat. He’s conscious of it. One of the great things about Jack is he never gives up on a puck, never feels like he’s out of it.”

Campbell is playing in only his second career postseason series, following last year’s opening-round loss to Montreal. Now, he has the chance to help Toronto win its first series victory since 2004.

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Facing reigning playoff MVP and former Vezina winner Andrei Vasilevskiy is no easy task. But Campbell said he enjoys the challenge of going head-to-head against one of the best in the world.

“I think human nature, as an athlete, you want to be the best you can be, and, obviously, Vasy’s proven how good he is over the course of his NHL career,” Campbell said. “So it’s a fun challenge. And, I mean, I’d be lying if I said I don’t want to do my best to beat him. But it’s part of playing sports, and thankfully our team’s been playing so well in front of me.”

Campbell made 85 saves over the first three games, registering a save percentage of .931. But it has been anything but easy.

“It was definitely a fun test (playing in this environment),” Campbell said. “We knew they were going to come out regardless, even if they didn’t get that second (goal) right away. But they did, and I think everybody did a good job of keeping our composure and just doing everything we could win the hockey game.”

Contact Mari Faiello at mfaiello@tampabay.com. Follow @faiello_mary.

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