(Photo via twitter/TBLightning)
By Michael Wax
2022 Playoffs: The Tampa Bay Lightning crushed the Colorado Avalanche 6-2 to take game three of the Stanley Cup Final. Tampa still trails the series 2-1.
Down 2-0 in the series, the Lightning were dealt a big blow heading into game three, as Brayden Point was ruled out during warmups with a continuing lower-body injury. In his place, Riley Nash stepped back into the lineup. In limited game action throughout his four previous 2022 playoff games, Nash showed an ability to slow the pace down at 5-on-5, something the Lightning desperately needed against the high-flying Avalanche.
The first period got off to a better start than the abhorrent game two, but saw the Avalanche strike first (twice). The first goal, called back due to an offsides challenge, saw Anthony Cirelli fail to clear the puck deep enough, resulting in an odd-man pinch for the Abs due to all three forwards being up in the play. After that goal was negated, the Lightning got a power play, one that was quickly negated due to an Ondrej Palat high-stick. In the ensuing Avalanche power play, Game Landeskog won a net-front battle against Erik Cernak and slammed home a rebound to give the Avs a 1-0 lead.
Unlike their lackluster performance in game two, the Lightning were quick to respond. Anthony Cirelli, who hadn't scored a goal since game six of the first round against the Toronto Maple Leafs, took off from the defensive zone and took matters into his own hands. He briefly gave the puck up to Pat Maroon, who gave it right back as Cirelli continued to pick up speed in the offensive zone. Cirelli tried to move the puck to the backhand and lost it on the carry-over, but the puck somehow found its way through to tie the game at one.
Less than two minutes later, the Lightning would take their first lead of the series. A weak cross-ice pass by Devon Toews lead to a steal and breakout from Ondrej Palat. Palat drifted as he waited for help, dropped it to Stamkos, and then rushed to the net to bury the return feed and give the Lightning a 2-1 lead. For Palat, it was his 10th goal of the playoffs, becoming the first Bolt to reach10 goals on the postseason.
While the Lightning had the lead after 20 minutes, the Ads still felt like the team that was pushing play. The second period told a much better story.
If the Lightning come back in this series and win the cup, Nick Paul will forever be immortalized with this next goal. Paul left the game in the first period after a cross-check that went uncalled left him limping. It looked like Paul was going to be out for the rest of the game, if not the series, but he returned at the beginning of the second. After Jan Rutta dumped the puck in, Josh Manson made a bewildering decision for Colorado and backhanded the puck onto the stick of Ross Colton. Colton centered a pass into the slot, and Nick Paul fired a wrister to give the Lightning a 3-1 lead.
When the team scores a big goal like that, typically the game tends to sway in their favor. Instead, Ross Colton took a hooking penalty less than three minutes later, giving the Avs yet another power play. Game Landeskog, once again, took the initiative for Colorado. His wrist shot from the left circle beat Vasilevskiy high blocker, the 29th such goal Vasilevskiy has allowed from that side these playoffs, and cut the Lightning lead to 3-2.
As with the tying goal, the Lightning showed that good teams will always find a way to respond. Nikita Kucherov, quiet in game two, won a board battle against Erik Johnson and drew just enough attention from J.T. Compher to leave Stamkos wide-open. Kucherov found him with a backhand pass, leading to a spin and score from the captain. It was his 10th of the postseason, tying him with Palat for the team lead.
The Lightning continued to press after the Stamkos goal, generating chances at both 5-on-5 and 4-on-4. Leaving the box after his 4-on-4 penalty had expired, Pat Maroon found himself playing with Stamkos and Kucherov. Maroon did a give-and-go with Kucherov, charged the net, and roofed the puck over the shoulder of Darcy Kuemper to make it 5-2. Despite it being his 21st consecutive Stanley Cup Final game, this was only Maroon's second-ever Stanley Cup Final goal.
The goal from Maroon chased Darcy Kuemper from the game, bringing in Avs' backup Pavel Francouz. Again, the Lightning kept pushing. Given a power play, the Lightning looked to snap an -for-16 drought. After some passing along the perimeter, Hedman shot a one-timer that Palat deflected and rang off the post. Corey Perry was right there for the rebound to make it a 6-2 game and score his first goal in nine games.
This game saw a lot of players step up in a huge way for the Lightning, not only ending their power play drought but also getting a couple players out of major slumps.
While the 3rd period did not see any scoring, nor did it see any real dangerous chances for the Avalanche, there was one key moment. After Nikita Kucherov hit Josh Manson from behind, on a play that should've been a penalty, the Avs began to go after Kucherov. After Manson tried to run the Russian superstar, Devon Toews gave Kucherov a cross-check which saw an awkward landing from the recipient. Though he tried to play through it, he quickly went back to the locker room after the next whistle, and did not return for remainder of the game.
Jon Cooper did not have an update after the game regarding Kucherov. If both Kucherov and Point can't go, the Lightning will either go 11/7 or have a Syracuse Crunch forward ready in the wings.
Our Three Stars
1. Kucherov (TBL): 2 Assists
2. Paul (TBL): Game-winning goal
3. Vasilevskiy (TBL): 35 Saves on 37 Shots
Media's Three Stars
1. Stamkos (TBL): 1 Goal, 1 Assist
2. Kucherov (TBL): 2 Assists
3. Paul (TBL): Game-winning goal
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