(Photo Via NHL.com)
By Jospeh Henry
The back-to-back Stanley Cup champions looked nothing of the sort in Denver Saturday night.
Tampa Bay lacked energy, speed and the will to win. It was a downright dreadful performance from the Eastern Conference champs.
A somber plane ride back home awaits the Lightning. They aren’t strangers to this situation on paper. Tampa Bay trailed the New York Rangers two games to none just last round. The feeling of this Stanley Cup Final series is different, however, and it doesn’t favor the Bolts.
The Colorado Avalanche throttled Tampa Bay during game two by a score of 7-0. The home team outshot the Lightning 30-16 and created countless quality chances against goalie Andrei Vasilevsky. The Avalanche had five different goal scorers and had 11 players tally at least one point.
“Listen, people are going to be watching this game tonight and probably think the series is over,” Lightning captain Steven Stamkos said. “But our group is a very, very resilient group”
Colorado’s onslaught began early.
Just a minute into the game defenseman Ryan McDonagh was sent to the penalty box for roughing. The call stifled Tampa’s gameplan: establish its tone quickly. As the power play wore on Valeri Nichushkin shifted right into the crease. A precise pass from Andre Burakovsky hit Nichushkin’s tape. The puck found itself buried in the back of the Tampa Bay net.
Five minutes later the Lightning would get tested again. The Avalanche broke out a 2-on-1 opportunity. Erik Cernak was the lone Tampa Bay defender back and opted to sprawl out to take away any passing lane. Vasilevsky was left exposed to the shot of Josh Manson, who beat the Lightning goalie’s blocker to double Colorado’s lead.
The barrage was only beginning.
Mikhail Sergachev gave Tampa Bay a scare when he was sent off for the second penalty of the night, a delay of game. The Lightning were able to kill the power play, but momentum was already too far gone.
At 13:25 Burakovsky lit the Avalanche lamp for the third time.
On the rush, Mikko Rantanen snapped a shot on goal from the right-wing circle. Vasilevsky kicked out a pad save, but Burakovsky was in the right place at the right time to slam in the score.
With three goals in the first period of both game one and two, Colorado joined elite company. The 1981 New York Islanders and the 1936 Detroit Red Wings are the only other clubs to hit those marks.
Those two teams both went on to win their respective Stanley Cups.
Intermission breaks did Tampa Bay no favors. In the second and third periods, Colorado would tack on two more goals. Adjustments by the Lightning were never made. True to their name, the Avalanche just kept coming.
Valeri Nichushkin and Darren Helm did Colorado’s damage in the second. As the middle period began to tick away Corey Perry tried his best to give Tampa Bay some life. Instead, his efforts got him nothing more than a double-minor penalty for roughing and unsportsmanlike conduct.
The post-whistle shenanigans would ensue again long after the game had been decided. Two more pucks had to flash past Vasilevsky first.
Tampa Bay’s power play has been in a slump and things got even worse in the third period. A tripping call on Rantanen sent the Lightning to the man advantage. The situation didn’t matter, the Avalanche were destined to score all night, no matter what. Cale Makar raced down the ice shorthanded and beat Vasilevsky, who wasn’t pulled from the game despite the lopsided score.
“I don’t think [Vasilevsky] would have come out. That’s the competitor he is,” Tampa Bay head coach Jon Cooper said. “He’s the best goalie in the world. He’s our guy.”
The “Big Cat” looked less than stellar Saturday, but didn’t receive much help from his teammates. Makar would score his second goal of the night seven minutes and 45 seconds later.
A slew of penalties rained down at the 15:38 mark. A 10-man scrum ended the nights of many players with roughing calls. When the final horn sounded the more than 17,000 Avalanche fans inside Ball Arena celebrated what had been long decided.
Getting blanked was Tampa Bay’s playoff result for just the second time since 2020. The first instance came in game one against the Toronto Maple Leafs at the beginning of this year’s run.
The message as the series shifts to Tampa is a simple one.
“Turn the page,” Cooper said.
The Lightning will now have an opportunity to do just that on home ice, once again trailing in their series 2-0. They look to become the first team in NHL history to overcome that deficit in consecutive conference and Stanley Cup finals.
Game three is set for 8 p.m. Monday night inside Amalie Arena. Coverage will be provided on ABC.
Three stars of the game:
1. Valeri Nichushkin (COL)
2. Darcy Kuemper (COL)
3. Cale Maker (COL)
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