DENVER – The two-time defending Stanley Cup champion Tampa Bay Lightning is well-educated in the art of erasing losses.
They came within 11 minutes of elimination by the Toronto Maple Leafs in the first round. He saw the New York Rangers play two games to open the Eastern Conference Finals. Even after losing to the Colorado Avalanche in a Game 1 Stanley Cup Finals, they staggered in front of a first-period barrage, but pulled off quickly before falling into overtime.
They will need another comeback – their toughest comeback yet against their most talented rival – if they want to be the first franchise to have a three-peat in nearly 40 years.
Such is the case after Colorado won 7-0 on Saturday night at the Ball Arena, holding Lightning on the ropes in the opening minutes to the mat until the middle of the second period to take a 2-0 lead. Chain.
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“We have shown a tendency to push back over the years. Tonight we didn’t,” said Tampa Bay head coach John Cooper. “If this becomes a common theme in the series, it’ll probably be a short one, but I never doubt the people in the room. Is it worth losing a game like this? Sure. We’re not used to it. It really is. Doesn’t happen to us. Is it going to happen sometime? Yes it is. You just hope it doesn’t happen in the Stanley Cup Finals.
“We’ve been able to circle the wagons and react. Disappointed with the way the game went tonight, no question, but I’m not questioning my team. They are bowlers.”
Cooper certainly thought Saturday night would be a circle-the-wagon moment, saying less than two hours before the puck fell that he believed his team to be in the first 10 minutes earlier than Wednesday night. “Much better cat” will play. In this building, when Lightning quickly went 2-0 down and 3-1 after the first period.
Instead, veteran defenseman Ryan McDonagh took a hefty 61 seconds into the game and converted at the end of the avalanche power play when Valerie Nichushkin dove into the front of the net and cashed a pass from Game 1 overtime hero Andre Burakovsky who was right. Gone through the three appearing Tampa defenders.
“It was all down there from there,” Cooper said.
In fact, Colorado dominated every aspect, taking advantage of 23-12 shots through two periods, holding the Lightning in a handful of real scoring opportunities and playing like an entirely superior group across the board.
“I thought it was extraordinary,” said AVS coach Jared Bedner. “I thought our men worked hard from the drop of the puck. Highly committed, dangerous offensive on the defensive side of things, tenacious on the puck, relentless puck chase and it was in our entire lineup.”
Nychushkin added another goal and an assist, while Burakovsky scored himself and another assist before leaving the game with an injury after just 7:51 of total ice time and 1:22 after the first period. Star defenseman Kale Makar added a shorthand goal and a power-play goal in the third period for good measure.
The Avalanche again proved the task of defeating Tampa Bay’s outstanding goalkeeper, Andrei Vasilevsky, who had little help from his defense as he dominated Colorado’s offensive zone at the time and fired his willful shot towards the net. .
Even after losing to a crowd yearning to return to the top of the hockey world, however, it is dangerous to count the two-time defending champions.
“We’re not expecting that (the winning margin) to be that much anymore,” said Colorado forward Darren Helm. “We have to put our foot on the gas. It’s going to be very hard to get to Tampa.”
Toronto could practically smell a first-round victory when the first-round series, leading 3–2, scored three consecutive second-period goals and 3–2 in the third period of a potential put-away game. took the lead. Nikita Kucherov instead sent the game into overtime and Braden Point delivered in overtime, before Tampa won 2–1, Game 7.
Perhaps the Rangers even thought they had Tampa where they wanted them, scoring nine goals before Wasilewski found his form, and surrendered just five more on a powerful, four-game response from the Lightning.
“We’re in the playoffs and does it feel different? We lost one game to Rangers 6-2, we lost one 7-0 (tonight),” Cooper said. “They are two completely different teams and two completely different series. The normal thing is that we are 0-2 down with them both. We have written one story, now we just have to write another. It doesn’t matter whether you win 7-0 in overtime or 4-3, you still lose the game.”
Does Colorado finish the job and lift the cup for the first time since 2001, but this hole certainly feels deeper than the previous one for Tampa.
Avalanche, after all, has speed and skill in the rooster. They have key players like Makar and Nathan McKinnon, but the series has been about the likes of Nichushkin and Burakovsky, who are very much up for Tampa’s defense.
“It’s been our team’s story pretty much all year,” Helm said of the lineup-wide contribution.
It’s about Helm himself, who has 22 hits in two games, won a 5-of-7 faceoff on Saturday and scored a goal on the breakaway.
“He’s playing to win,” said Bednar simply.
It’s about goalkeeper Darcy Kumper, who turned in rock solid work on Wednesday night’s return from injury outside a blip of 48 seconds.
It’s not yet about Nazem Qadri, the talented centre, without whom AVS take a 2-0 lead, but who may return to action at some point in the series depending on who How putting her surgically repaired thumb on the ice more intensely works.
Regardless of who has been in the lineup and who has scored over the past six weeks, Colorado’s playoff performance at this point in time is undeniably impressive. The Avalanche are now 14-2 on aggregate and ride a seven-game winning streak across the Gulf Coast. Perhaps even more impressive: They haven’t lost to Denver in the postseason yet. They staked their claim as the best team in the Western Conference in the regular season and showed little signs of wavering in the playoffs.
“As you go into the playoffs, even in the last series, we are still learning and learning as a group,” said Makar. “For most people, it’s a new experience for them. So you learn from your mistakes, the things you left behind in previous games, and then move on. We learned from the previous games and wanted to keep that momentum going. And we tried our best to do that.
Reminiscent of the experience discrepancy between the back-to-back champions and their team prior to Game 1, Bednar responded, “Obviously Tampa, the third straight trip and they’ve been one of the top teams in the league for the better part of a decade. Have been one, lots of experience, know how to win, we get it. …
“They may have more experience, but we’re here trying to prove that we’re the best team in the league. That’s where our mindset is.”
He dominated the first round of the series. There is a talented side on the second bench that is hard to beat.
If there is drama left in this series, it is to begin in Tampa from Monday night.