Sunday, August 7, 2022

Avalanche beats Lightning to win Stanley Cup for third time

TAMPA, Fla. ( Associated Press) — Nathan McKinnon couldn’t find the words. Gabriel Landeskog told a smile and a joke.

After years of playoff disappointment, the Colorado Avalanche is back on the mountain of hockey after dethroning the two-time defending champions.

Behind a goal and assist from McKinnon, the Avalanche won the Stanley Cup for the third time in franchise history and for the first time in more than two decades, beating the Tampa Bay Lightning 2–1 in Game 6 of the final Sunday night.

“It’s just building up with time,” said playoff MVP-winning defenseman Kale Makar. Said about the journey of the avalanche. “I’ve only been here three years. Some hard out in the playoffs. It was all just leading up to this.”

This is the first title for Avs’ core group led by MacKinnon.Captain Gabriel Landeskog, Miko Rentanen and Makar, and it follows several early postseason exits – in the second round each of the last three seasons and in the first round in 2018. The 2016–17 team was the worst in hockey, ending with only 48. score.

“It’s hard to describe,” said McKinnon, who led in the clinch by blocking shots and taking big hits in addition to his aggressive production. “Got some tough years there, but now it’s all over. We never stopped believing.”

With a mix of speed, high-end talent, and the experience gained from those defeats, Colorado broke through this time – beating the deep and gritty team that had hoisted the Cup over the past two years and earned every bit of the championship.

“It’s probably a little more satisfying to beat them, to be honest, because they are the champions,” said veteran forward Andrew Cogliano, who won the Cup for the first time at age 35. “They know how to win. And, after all, when you can beat the champion, you know you’ve really earned it.”

Like an avalanche full expectation, it was not easy.

Capricorn’s early turnover led to an easy goal by Steven Stamkos, putting Colorado in a hole and many more bumps and injuries to follow. The Avalanche tied it up when McKinnon beat 2021 playoff MVP Andrei Vasilevsky with a near-perfect shot and went ahead on another big goal by trade deadline takeover Arturi Lehkonen. He closed things by catching the puck and caught Tampa Bay without a shot on Darcy Kumper by the middle of the third period.

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When Lightning finally did, it was there. Brought in from Arizona in a trade last summer to shore up the game’s most important position, Kumper came back strong and made his most important save with less than seven minutes left to negate star Nikita Kucherov. slipped.

His teammates got the job done and Colorado improved to 9–1 on the road this post season.

Much like the Lightning traded high draft picks at times and loaded up prospects for the best chance of winning the Cup, Avalanche general manager Joe Sakic was not afraid to acquire Lehkonen, defenseman Josh Manson and Cogliano in March. , They became the perfect complement to the Colorado native, who had shown plenty of playoff promise but had not yet produced a championship.

Saki, who captained Colorado’s first two title-winning teams in 1996 and 2001, used a familiar recipe to get his team over the hump. Like Pierre Lacroix, the architect of the Avalanche teams that had had so much success after the organization moved to Denver, Sackic prioritized skill, speed, and versatility.

That momentum overwhelmed every opponent on the way to the finals, from an early sweep of Nashville through a six-game series against St. Louis and another sweep of Edmonton. It was a different challenge against Tampa Bay, when the Avalanche needed to absorb counter-punches from back-to-back champs to close it.

Tampa Bay fell two wins short of becoming the NHL’s first three-peat champion The New York Islanders dynasty from the early 1980s.

“It stings as much as it does in the first time,” Stamkos said, referring to the Lightning’s loss to Chicago in the 2015 final.

Before the series, Makar stated that he and his companions were trying to end a dynasty and start a legacy. That legacy finally includes a championship, thanks in large part to steady coach Jared Bedner, who in his sixth season found a way to keep his team focused on the mission. From the start of training camp. Bedner became the first coach to win the Stanley Cup, the American Hockey League’s Calder Cup and the ECHL’s Kelly Cup—after a miserable 48-point run in his first season behind the Colorado bench.

“He stuck with it too,” Rantenon said. “His first year in the league was a tough one, and so did I. I can’t believe we’re here after six years.”

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Bedner won a chess match with John Cooper, also a Stanley and Calder Cup champion, who is regarded as one of the best strategists in the NHL. The Lightning, facing their toughest competition since their run to success in 2020, fell into the 0-2 hole and then went down 3-1 before forcing Game 6.

Asked how other teams can mimic the success of the Avalanche, Landeskog quipped, “Get a black Capricorn somewhere.” Indeed, Conn Smyth won after Capricorn led Colorado to 29 points in 20 games.

Injuries that sidelined top center Breyden points and limited other key contributors proved too much against a steep opponent. Depth allowed Avalanche to recover from losing defender Samuel Girard to a ruptured sternum, and the Lightning also ended up bypassing standout forward Andre Burakovsky. From injury and with Valery Nichushkin Walking around on an injured right leg and Nazem Qadri playing with a broken right thumb in the middle.

The Avalanche beat Lightning, before the crash could have been too much and the dreaded prospect of facing an elimination in Game 7 against Vasilevsky. Instead, they will return to Denver to celebrate with the Stanley Cup. The parade is likely on Thursday.

While not as sentimental as the last two years, when the Stamkos took home the trophy, Colorado’s series-ending victory marks another completion of an NHL season during a pandemic – 82 with a normal playoff format since 2019 First time in games. It was not without stumbling blocks, including the postponement of dozens of games and pulling out of the Olympics. Commissioner Gary Bateman was not able to hand over the cup to Landeskog because he tested positive for the coronavirus, leaving deputy Bill Daly to do the honors.

The Avalanche and Lightning dealt with occasional rough snow in late June, something that should not happen again as the league returns to its regular schedule. When that happens, Colorado will have a chance to defend its crown and attempt to follow Tampa Bay in becoming a perennial cup contender.


Associated Press Sportswriter Pat Graham in Denver contributed to this report.


Follow Associated Press Hockey writer Stephen Whyno on Twitter


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