Stanley Cup Final: Lightning beat Avalanche in Game 5, stay alive

The Stanley Cup was in the house on Friday, but it stayed in the white-gloved hands of its keeper.

The Tampa Bay Lightning, mentally exhausted from 70 playoff games in three seasons, bruised and in pain, and forced to play without injured forward Brayden Point while facing the end of their two-year Cup life, found the strength to rise to the occasion fight back against the Colorado Avalanche and extend their reign by at least two days with a hard-fought 3-2 victory in the Ball Arena.

Colorado has another chance to lift the trophy for the third time in franchise history in Game 6 in Tampa on Sunday. A seventh game would be played in Denver on Tuesday if necessary.

“Listen, we would have liked to have played it to the end, but at the end of the day it’s a seven-game series. It’s not supposed to be easy and it won’t be,” said Colorado captain Gabriel Landeskog. “I hope the fans feel the same way. The sun will rise again tomorrow and we’ll be right back.”

Tampa Bay’s win on Friday was part guts, part muscle memory, and all heart. After just one power-play goal in 14 attempts in their first four games, the Lightning grabbed a four-for-three from Nikita Kucherov in the second period to give them life and a brief lead. Colorado came back, but there was no denying Tampa Bay.

Avalanche goalie Darcy Kümper cannot prevent the starting shot on June 24, 2022.

Colorado goalie Darcy Kümper cannot prevent the opening goal in the third period.

(Jack Dempsey/Associated Press)

Their bodies may be weak after two successful cup runs, a quick turnaround from last season’s COVID-delayed playoffs to the start of this season and the challenges of another long run, but their wills have never wavered.

“In that room you could see there was still hockey to be played and that’s how we see it,” said Lightning forward and former Duck Corey Perry, who is playing in the cup finals for the third straight year after losing to Tampa and Bay with Dallas with Montreal the last two seasons. “We want to push that forward and see where this thing goes and there’s no giving up.”

The Lightning struck first after defenseman Jan Rutta dragged the puck onto the ice and unleashed a hard shot from the top of the right circle that went through Darcy Kuemper’s pads at 15:23 of the first period. Colorado equalized at 5:07 of the second period after Tampa Bay was called on to ice. Landeskog defeated Tampa Bay’s Nick Paul on a faceoff in the Lightning end and the puck landed on Cale Makar’s racquet, whose shot ricocheted off the net. Valeri Nichushkin tapped the puck and the crowd cheered.

Tampa Bay took the lead at 8:10 of the second game while holding a four-for-three advantage when Kucherov’s ascending one-timer got past Kuemper while Perry took the lead. But Colorado equalized at 2:31 of the third period after Makar’s shot deflected off the skate of Tampa Bay defenseman Erik Cernak, a former Kings contender. The fans started chanting “We want the cup”, but they didn’t get to see it because of Ondrej Palat’s great goal.

Cale Makar of The Avalanche, right, celebrates his goal with Valeri Nichushkin and Devon Toews on June 24, 2022.

The Avalanche’s Cale Makar (right) celebrates his equalizer in the third period with Valeri Nichushkin and Devon Toews.

(David Zalubowski/Associated Press)

“We have extended the season. That’s what we wanted to do, find a way,” said Lightning captain Steven Stamkos. “It was a big effort. Now we have to do it again.”

The teams split Games 3 and 4 in Tampa. Avalanche coach Jared Bednar said it matters less where they play than how they play.

“We were good because we just keep playing our game regardless of the venue,” he said. “People dug in on the street. We saw it in the regular season. We’ve seen it really make it to the playoffs. Guys come hungry and ready to play and play to our identity.”

But the Lightning on Friday played to their identity: They’re two-time defending champions who gave themselves a shot at a third straight triumph by winning in an enemy building and with timely goals and special team contributions they didn’t get in the finals.

Perry laughed when asked if he and his teammates were motivated by the idea that they had put in too much time and sweat over the past two months to lose now. “I’m just trying to play hockey. In the afternoon I take my nap, I come to the rink and just focus on the game,” he said. “It’s not about what if, what if. It’s about what you need to do and that’s how we see it. That’s how our team sees it.”

They’re looking at another chance, maybe two, to become the first team to win the Cup three straight seasons since the New York Islanders won four straight seasons starting in 1980. “We feel comfortable in our building. We wanted to come back, push it back, see what happens, see where it goes,” Perry said. “We got our work done tonight, but we have a big job to do in a couple of nights.”

Your job on Sunday will put the trophy back in the suitcase. Stanley Cup Final: Lightning beat Avalanche in Game 5, stay alive

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