DENVER – The two-time defending Stanley Cup champion Tampa Bay Lightning are well-schooled within the artwork of erasing deficits.
They got here inside 11 minutes of elimination by the Toronto Maple Leafs within the first spherical. They noticed two video games to the New York Rangers to open the Eastern Conference remaining. Even in a Game 1 Stanley Cup Final loss to the Colorado Avalanche, they staggered within the face of a first-period barrage, however rapidly pulled even earlier than falling in extra time.
They will want one other comeback – essentially the most daunting one but in opposition to their most gifted opponent but – if they’re to turn into the primary franchise in almost 40 years to three-peat.
Such is the case after Colorado steamrolled to a 7-0 victory Saturday night time at Ball Arena, placing the Lightning on the ropes within the opening minutes, on the mat by the center of the second interval and powering to a 2-0 lead within the sequence.
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“We’ve shown a propensity to push back for years. Tonight we didn’t,” Tampa Bay head coach Jon Cooper mentioned. “If this becomes a common theme in the series, it will probably be a short one, but I never doubt the guys in the room. Does it suck losing a game like that? For sure. We’re not used to it. It doesn’t really happen to us. Is it going to happen at times? Yeah, it is. You just hope it doesn’t happen in the Stanley Cup Final.
“We’ve been able to circle the wagons and respond. Disappointed in the way the game went tonight, no question, but I’m not questioning our team. They’re ballers.”
Cooper actually thought Saturday night time can be a circle-the-wagons second, saying lower than two hours earlier than the puck dropped that he was assured his staff would play “a heck of a lot better” over the primary 10 minutes than it did Wednesday night time on this constructing, when the Lightning fell behind 2-0 rapidly and trailed 3-1 after the primary interval.
Instead, veteran defenseman Ryan McDonagh took a roughing penalty 61 seconds into the sport and the Avalanche transformed close to the tip of the ability play when Valeri Nichushkin dove in entrance of the web and cashed in a cross from Game 1’s extra time hero Andre Burakovsky that went proper by means of three on-looking Tampa defenders.
“It was all downhill from there,” Cooper mentioned.
Indeed, Colorado dominated in each side, opening up a 23-12 photographs benefit by means of two intervals, holding the Lightning to a fistful of actual scoring alternatives and enjoying just like the completely superior group throughout the board.
“I thought it was exceptional,” Avs coach Jared Bednar mentioned. “I thought our guys played hard right from the drop of the puck. Highly committed on the defensive side of things, dangerous offensively, tenacious on pucks, relentless puck pursuit and that was throughout our entire lineup.”
Nichushkin added one other aim and an help, whereas Burakovsky tallied a aim himself and one other helper earlier than leaving the sport with an harm after simply 7:51 of whole ice time and 1:22 after the primary interval. Star defenseman Cale Makar added a shorthanded aim and a power-play aim within the third interval for good measure.
The Avalanche once more proved as much as the duty of beating Tampa Bay’s glorious goaltender, Andrei Vasilevskiy, who obtained little in the best way of assist from his protection as Colorado dominated offensive zone time and peppered photographs towards the web at will.
Even after a blowout loss in entrance of a frothing crowd in a metropolis longing to return to the highest of the hockey world, although, it’s harmful to depend out the two-time defending champions.
“We’re not expecting that (margin of victory) to happen anymore,” Colorado ahead Darren Helm mentioned. “We’ve got to keep our foot on the gas. It’s going to be a lot tougher going into Tampa.”
Toronto may virtually odor a first-round victory when, main a first-round sequence 3-2, it poured in three consecutive second-period targets and carried a 3-2 lead into the third interval of a possible put-away recreation. Instead Nikita Kucherov despatched the sport to extra time and Brayden Point delivered in extra time earlier than Tampa cast a 2-1, Game 7 win.
Perhaps the Rangers additionally thought they’d Tampa proper the place they needed them, scoring 9 targets in a pair of opening wins earlier than watching Vasilevskiy discover his kind and give up simply 5 extra over a strong, four-game response from the Lightning.
“We’re in the playoffs and does it feel different? We lost one of the games 6-2 to the Rangers, we lost one 7-0 (tonight),” Cooper said. “They’re two completely different teams and two completely different series. The common factor is we’re down 0-2 to both of them. We’ve written one story, now we just have to write another. For me, it’s regardless of whether you win 7-0 or 4-3 in overtime, you still lose the game.”
Whether Colorado finishes the job and raises the Cup for the primary time since 2001 stays to be seen, however this gap actually feels deeper than the previous ones for Tampa.
The Avalanche, in any case, have velocity and ability throughout the roster. They have premier gamers like Makar and Nathan MacKinnon, actually, however this sequence has been in regards to the likes of Nichushkin and Burakovsky, who’ve been an excessive amount of for Tampa’s protection to deal with.
“That’s been the story of our team pretty much all year,” Helm mentioned of the lineup-wide contributions.
It’s been about Helm himself, who has racked up 22 hits by means of two video games, received 5-of-7 faceoffs on Saturday and scored a aim on a breakaway.
“He’s playing to win,” Bednar mentioned merely.
It’s been about goaltender Darcy Kuemper, who exterior of 1 48-second blip on Wednesday night time, has turned in rock strong work in his return from harm.
It has not but been about Nazem Kadri, the gifted middle with out whom the Avs have constructed a 2-0 lead however who may return to motion sooner or later within the sequence relying on how his surgically repaired thumb holds as much as extra intense on-ice work.
Regardless of who’s been within the lineup and who’s carried out the scoring over the previous six-plus weeks, Colorado’s playoff efficiency at this level is undeniably dominant. The Avalanche are actually 14-2 within the postseason general and trip a seven-game profitable streak to the Gulf Coast. Perhaps much more spectacular: They haven’t but misplaced away from Denver within the postseason. They staked their declare because the Western Conference’s finest staff within the common season and have hardly confirmed indicators of wavering within the playoffs.
“As you go along in the playoffs, even previous series, we’re still adapting and learning as a group,” Makar mentioned. “For most of the guys, this is a new experience for them. So you learn from your mistakes, the things you give up in prior games, and then move forward. We learned from last game and wanted to keep that momentum, and we did our best to do that.”
Reminded of the expertise discrepancy between the back-to-back champs and his staff earlier than Game 1, Bednar responded, “Obviously Tampa, third straight trip and they’ve been one of the top teams in the league for the better part of a decade, lots of experience, know how to win, we get it. …
“They may have more experience, but we’re here to try to prove that we’re the best team in the league. That’s where our mindset is at.”
They’ve dominated the sequence’ first intervals. On the opposite bench is a gifted aspect that’s been powerful to kill.
If there’s drama left on this sequence, it should possible have to start Monday night time in Tampa.
This article initially appeared on USA TODAY: Stanley Cup Finals: Avalanche blow out Lightning for 2-0 sequence lead