DENVER – The Colorado Avalanche found a way.
The Avalanche took an early lead in the Stanley Cup Final, beating the Tampa Bay Lightning in a thrilling overtime contest courtesy of Andre Burakovsky’s winner less than two minutes into the extra frame.
The Avalanche got out to a roaring lead in Game 1, out-shooting 15-8 in the opening period while barely allowing the Lightning to get out of their own zone for large chunks of time. That sustained pressure would result in the Avalanche exiting the first period with a 3-1 lead, with Gabriel Landeskog opening the scoring, followed by Valeri Nichushkin banging home a loose puck in the crease, and finished off by Artturi Lehknonen continuing his torrid play of late by making the Lightning pay on a rare 5-on-3.
If it wasn’t for a truly peculiar Nick Paul breakaway that was mishandled by Kuemper and somehow wound up in the back of the net, Colorado would have skated off with as close to a perfect period as you’ll find when it comes to playoff hockey.
But the Lightning are back-to-back champions for a reason, though, and proved their mettle in the second period by coming out of the intermission swinging to put the Avalanche on their toes and sway the game back in their favor.
Nikita Kucherov ignited the comeback early in the frame, making Devon Toews, one of the best defensemen in the entire NHL, look like a minor-leaguer with a beautiful move off the rush to leave the puck on a silver platter for a streaking Ondrej Palat. Just minutes later, Mikhail Sergachev struck for Tampa again, launching a long-range wrister from the point that somehow snuck through a sea of bodies and ricocheted off the post and in.
Given the chokehold that the Avalanche managed to take on the shot total and possession game in regulation, it’s a testament to Tampa’s relentless refusal to give in despite being down early that they pushed the contest to overtime at all.
Alas, they could only hold on for so long.
After beginning overtime on the power play after Patrick Maroon took a delay of game with less than two minutes remaining, the Avalanche translated their man advantage momentum into an all-out offensive assault, hammering the Lightning on the forecheck and eventually creating a cycle that allowed Burakovsky to finish off a pretty display of puck movement for the winner.
The Lightning will not go down easy, however. While their remarkable streal of 17 consecutive playoff victories directly after a loss came to an end in the Eastern Conference Final, Tampa is still 17-1 in response games over the past three years.
Needless to say, Game 2 should be fun.