Tampa, Fla. – The Colorado Avalanche are the Stanley Cup champions for the first time since 2001, defeating the Tampa Bay Lightning 2-1 in Game 6 of the cup final on Sunday.
Arturi Lehkonen scored the Avalanche’s game winner in the second period. Darcy Kumper made 22 saves in the win.
Tampa Bay was making its third consecutive appearance in the Cup Finals after back-to-back championships in 2020 and 2021. The Lightning would have been the first team in the NHL to win three consecutive cups as the New York Islanders won four consecutive cups since 1980. until 1983.
The win took another back-and-forth effort from the Avalanche to clinch their franchise’s first championship in two decades. They also played from behind in two of their last three series-cleaning games.
Steven Stamkos scored his 11th 5-hole goal after the season on Kumper at the start of the first period, giving the Lightning a 1–0 lead. Tampa Bay beat Colorado 10-8 in 20 minutes.
The avalanche pushed back in another. Nathan McKinnon equalized with a one-timer from left circle from Andrei Vasilevsky.
McKinnon’s second goal of the series came on a delayed penalty call, and Tampa Bay raised the issue of not calling the play dead when Nick Paul touched the puck. Determining whether Paul had possession was not reviewable, so the goal was to draw the game at 1–1.
Colorado continued to pepper Wasilewski until Lehkonen finally broke through to lead the Avalanche 2–1. It marked Colorado’s first regulation lead of the series since Game 3.
The Lightning lagged to start the third period, but it was the Avalanche that was building the pressure with a rapid 5-0 lead in shots on goal. Colorado finished with a 30-23 lead in the game.
Wasilewski stood tall against Colorado’s attack in the final frame to give Tampa Bay a chance to tie, but Lehkonen’s goal would stand as the winner to make Colorado Cup champions.
The avalanche had already failed once before destroying Tampa Bay. Colorado took a 3-1 series lead to go into Game 5 on Friday, but could not close the defending cup winners in a 3-2 loss.
Avalanche mostly controlled the series before that. Colorado took a 2–0 lead over Tampa Bay with a 4–3 overtime win in Game 1 and a 7–0 loss in Game 2. The Lightning responded with a 6–2 one-sided victory of their own in Game 3, but could not advance to Colorado in a 3–2 over-time loss in Game 4.
Tampa Bay made a formidable effort in Game 5 to placate Colorado’s electric home crowd and extend the series one more game. The Lightning fed its own fans in Game 6 but couldn’t stop Colorado’s offensive for the second time.
When Colorado last won the Cup 21 years ago, current general manager Joe Sakic was the team’s captain, who in an iconic moment handed the cup over to legendary defenseman Ray Bourke. This time Sakik saw from above that the club he had built had been finished again.
Colorado’s cup win was the culmination of an impressive run later in the season in which the Avalanche went 16–3 on aggregate and won both their first-round series against Nashville and the Western Conference Finals against Edmonton.
This is consistent with avalanche as well as a theme for hoisting hockey cups on enemy ice. Colorado was brilliant in all of the playoffs on the road, finishing with 9–1 points and winning all four of their series away from home.
“It’s like I’m in disbelief,” McKinnon said. “It’s hard to describe, but to see all these warriors fight… it feels incredible.”
Colorado defenseman Kale Makar, who won the Norris Trophy last week as the league’s top defender, was awarded the Conn Smith Trophy for the most outstanding player of the season.
“Find a black Capricorn somewhere,” said Captain Gabriel Landeskog when asked how teams could imitate what Colorado has achieved. “We’re a really tough team to play against.”
Tampa Bay had a tough way back into the Cup Finals, trailing every series but the second round in Florida. The Lightning went down 3–2 to Toronto in the first round and 2–0 to the New York Rangers in the Eastern Conference finals, but found a way out of each opponent.
The Lightning played many a post season without top forward Brayden Point. He suffered a lower body injury in Game 7 against Toronto and missed more than a month before returning for Game 1 and Game 2 of the Cup Finals. Yet not himself, Point will not return in the series.
Colorado also had injury concerns. Kumper, Nazem Qadri and Andre Burakowski all missed several games with various ailments (Burakowski had been ruled out of the Cup Finals after suffering a hand injury in Game 2). Qadri’s broken thumb – injured in a boarding incident with Evander Kane during the conference finals – was particularly serious and required surgery. He returned in Game 4 of the Cup Final and was the overtime winner.
Avalanche persisted through their problems with impressive depth which was the cornerstone of their overall success. In the Avalanche 10 different players scored at least one goal in the Cup Final and 17 recorded a point or more (including Kumper).
The goal-scoring matchup going into the Cup Final was a hot topic and it did not disappoint. Vasilevskiy returned from a subpar performance in Game 1 (.895 SV%) and became Tampa Bay’s best player from there.
Kumper conquered even adversity. He was relegated from Game 3 for allowing him to score five goals on 22 shots, but Avalanche coach Jared Bedner went back to him on backup Pavel Françoise for Game 4 and Kuempor gave his most complete performance of the playoffs (37). save, .949 sv%).
In the end, Kumper saved enough to help him deliver a cup for Colorado.