DENVER ( Associated Press) – The Stanley Cup was in the building and just waiting to be paraded around the snow.
pack it up. It’s going back to Florida.
The resilient Tampa Bay Lightning spoiled Colorado’s party to be on the hunt for a third consecutive Stanley Cup title, beating the Avalanche 3-2 on Friday night in Game 5.
Ondrej Palt scored with 6:22 remaining and Andrei Vasilevsky stopped 35 shots in front of a raucous crowd hoping to celebrate the Avalanche’s first championship in 21 years.
“That’s what good teams do – you find a way,” said Lightning forward Corey Perry. “Keep plugging together. It’s entertaining. That’s hockey, different people move at different times.”
Game 6 is in Tampa on Sunday night. The Lightning best-of-seven series trails 3-2.
“Listen, this is a big challenge for us,” said Lightning forward Pat Maroon. “An exciting challenge too. You have to be excited for this challenge and accept it.”
The cup was fully glazed and ready for the moment – almost pointing towards the avalanche. It’s back on the road for the Avalanche, where they lead 8-1 in their playoff run so far.
“We believe in our rooms that we can win every game we go out and play,” said defenseman Devon Toes. “We think we had a good game tonight, very good game. Obviously tonight was not enough.”
Nikita Kucherov and defenseman Jan Rutta also scored for Lightning. Valery Nichushkin and Black Makar had goals for Colorado. Makar’s third period tally bounced through Erik Cernak’s skate and Vasilevsky’s pad to tie it at 2.
This set the stage for a turnaround, whose shot slipped through the pads of Darcy Kumper. It was Palt’s 16th career go-forward playoff goal, only behind Breyden Points (18) in franchise history.
“I thought I played it well, slipped,” Kumper said. “It just got a little hole.”
Tampa Bay regrouped after an emotional Game 4 loss at home on an overtime goal from Colorado forward Nazem Qadri. Lightning realized that there could be too many players on the ice on the winner of the Avalanche.
A similar many-players-on-the-ice scenario surfaced on Friday – and this time it was called off. With 2:43 remaining, Lightning went on the power play and made it so Colorado couldn’t drag Kumper until the last minute. He faced a late barrage of avalanches.
Just the Lightning is showing off the subtlety of its championship. They have already rallied from a 3–2 loss to Toronto in the first round, and a 2–0 hole exit against the New York Rangers in the Eastern Conference Finals.
Completing this comeback series win would put them in an entirely different category. Only one team has rallied to capture Game 7 in the finals—the 1942 Toronto Maple Leafs—after going 3-1 in a series.
It’s a gritty Lightning squad that is showing no signs of slowing down against a fast avalanche team and even after entering all competitions. Tampa Bay has played 67 postseason games since the start of the first round in 2020, almost an extra season.
His resolve has impressed Lightning coach John Cooper. His team improved 3–0 this season, facing potential elimination games.
“You have to have the mental fortitude to play in the environment you want to play in, which is why these guys have some rings on their fingers,” Cooper said.
The Avalanche are trying to regain their first title since 2001. Avalanche fans were out in full force—both inside the building (an upper level ticket going for about $1,500 on game day) and outside at a nearby watch party.
“It shouldn’t be easy and it’s not going to be easy,” said Avalanche captain Gabriel Landeskog. “We knew it was coming. We knew that was coming in tonight. … short memory in the playoffs and that’s what we’re going to do.”
The Avalanche is 2 for 2 in its journey to the Stanley Cup Finals. He also won 1996, which was his inaugural season in Denver after relocating from Quebec.
As Nichushkin leveled in the second, Kucherov scored a goal at the post. The goal of the power-play was with Alex Kilorn in the box, in a 4-on-3 position with JT Komper (holding the stick) and Makar (tripping).
Bednar was not at all thrilled with Makara’s call.
“There was no pun intended. I don’t think he was checking the man,” said Bednar. “Look at me like he slipped on a stick. It’s a tough one.”
Kumper finished with 26 saves.
“He was fine,” Bednar said. “I obviously want to get him first.”
That first game would be Rutta’s score in less than five minutes which took away some of the energy from the crowd. This was his first goal in these playoffs.
“We’ve been here. Have we come down 3-1? No,” said Cooper. “But we’ve been in these situations where we know the feeling of being in an elimination game.”
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