The Colorado Avalanche are the fourth NHL team to score seven or more goals four times in a postseason run, and the first time in 37 years. They become the first team since 1996 to score at least 11 goals in the first two games of the Stanley Cup Finals, a total they caught up on Saturday with a 7-0 win at the Ball Arena, giving them two wins were far from dethroning the two-time defending champion Tampa Bay Lightning.
Fifteen Colorado players had at least a point in the first two games of the finals, led by Mikko Rantanen’s dynamic five-assist winger and Valeri Nichushkin’s three goals and four points. They’ve made 2021 playoff MVP Andrei Vasilevskiy look mortal at the net, although he can’t be blamed for faltering against the high-value odds that came when his teammates let him down to get around Set two-on-one breaks. “We left him outside to dry,” said Lightning captain Steven Stamkos.
But the main reason the Avalanche are able to stranglehold the trophy in Monday’s Game 3 at the Amalie Arena is their suffocating defense, which has silenced the Lightning’s great scoring chances and set a foundation for their own stunning ordeal.
Holding Tampa Bay on 39 shots, including 16 in Game 2, was impressive, as was their ability to play a consistently fast pace with accurate passes no other NHL team can match. Stamkos has had four shots and no points. Right winger Nikita Kucherov, top scorer in the 2021 cup replay in Tampa Bay and top producer on his three-peat attempt, has an assist.
“I thought our check game made the difference [on Saturday] and that’s why we scored seven goals,” said winger Andrew Cogliano, the plucky former Duck who returned on Saturday from a hand injury and set up two assists.
“I thought we came out with an intention. We came to our game. We ran right off the drop of the puck. And we just didn’t let up, really. From the top line to the fourth line I thought we skated, we checked all night. Because of this, we broke pucks really clean. We have strange rushes. We played our game from start to finish.”
Colorado defenseman Cale Makar on Saturday became the second defenseman in NHL history, after Glen Wesley of Boston in 1988, to score both a shorthanded and a power-play goal in a cup final game. However, Makar was more proud of his team’s defensive performance than of his individual successes.
“We know as a team that if we play our best game defensively, we will be rewarded offensively. For us, that kind of realization just comes every night,” he said. “Your players will find ways to take advantage of you and we just have to be prepared for that. They’re going to throw everything at us in the next game, so we just have to be ready and give it back to them too.”
Colorado is 7-0 on the road; Tampa Bay is 7-1 at home. The Lightning were resilient in making up deficits against Toronto in the first round and the New York Rangers in the East Finals, but the Avalanche are a different beast with their speed and dedicated top-to-bottom defense.
Lightning coach Jon Cooper dismissed suggestions that his team’s struggles might reflect fatigue from three extended playoff runs. “Isn’t that what you want to do? I’d rather play hockey than have a five-month summer every year,” he said Sunday before both teams traveled east.
“We are not in an ideal situation, but it is not insurmountable. It just seems like it’s been the comebacks playoffs all along. Our space, our margin of error isn’t as great as it was a few days ago, but I think we need to go back to our basics and why we were successful and focus a little more on ourselves.”
Stamkos admitted he and the Lightning didn’t see defeat coming on Saturday. “But when we say that, we have to pull ourselves together and do better,” he said.
where to start
It will not be with a goalkeeper change. Cooper said on Saturday he would start Vasilevskiy on Monday, adding he hadn’t considered replacing the Russian goalkeeper when the result went awry because he expected Vasilevskiy to have refused to leave. Lightning players focused on improving their puck possession time, although that’s easier said than done given the Avalanche’s error-causing speed and disciplined checking.
“We can be better, we can be faster with the puck. sales. We can start playing north a little faster and once you start doing that we’ll get back to our game,” said winger Corey Perry. “We didn’t play a lot with the puck.”
Tampa Bay could get a break if Colorado winger Andre Burakovsky, who sustained a second-half injury on Saturday and did not return, is unable to play on Monday. Colorado coach Jared Bednar said Burakovsky, whose overtime goal decided Game 1, was assessed Sunday and will head to Florida on Monday. If he can’t play, Colorado may be able to bring in No. 2 center Nazem Kadri, who had 14 points in 13 playoff games before injuring his thumb in the team’s Game 3 against Edmonton in the West Finals.
The Lightning’s claim to dynasty status boils down to a game. Only one NHL team has come from a 3-0 deficit in a best-of-seven cup final: the 1942 Toronto Maple Leafs versus the Detroit Red Wings. The Avalanche have history on their side as they are planted there with their scoring depth but solidified by their defense.
https://www.latimes.com/sports/hockey/story/2022-06-19/stanley-cup-final-game-3-preview-lightning-avalanche Elliott: Their offense is great, but it’s defense that gives the Avalanche the look of a champion