On Sunday night at Amalie Arena, the NHL crowned a new champion. The Colorado Avalanche defeated the two-time champion Tampa Bay Lightning 2-1 to take Game Six in enemy territory to win the Stanley Cup.
The Avalanche did it by digging out of an early hole. The Lightning weren’t ready to go down easily. Captain Steven Stamkos scored his 11th of the postseason to put them ahead in front of a great home crowd.
It was the Bolts who came out strong to grab the one-goal lead against the Avalanche. After Andrei Vasilevskiy turned aside Nazem Kadri and Nathan MacKinnon in the early going, Stamkos tallied off a good play from Nikita Kucherov behind the boards with help from Ondrej Palat. That work allowed Stamkos to open the scoring at 3:48.
In a well played first period that saw the Lightning do a good job on the forecheck, Darcy Kuemper made a few key stops to keep the deficit at one. For the starting goalie who was questioned by critics during the playoffs and particularly in the Stanley Cup Finals, he did a good enough job to deliver for winning coach Jared Bednar.
Although they were outshot 10-8 in the first, the Avalanche picked up their play during the second half. They used their speed to generate scoring chances. The best coming when Artturi Lehkonen had a shot graze off the goalpost on a good Kadri feed.
Similar to the previous two games where they fell behind, the Avalanche picked it up in the second period. Nathan MacKinnon had only one goal up to that point. He’d been held in check due to Tampa’s defense that included Victor Hedman or Ryan McDonagh with Erik Cernak or Zach Bogosian. It also featured Anthony Cirelli and Nick Paul as the center between Alex Killorn and Brandon Hagel.
The only goal MacKinnon had went off his skate on a power play during Game Four. He’d had so many shots rejected by the gritty Cernak, who’s the Bolts’ version of Jacob Trouba. But also similar to Ryan Lindgren, who came back and played through an ankle sprain during the Rangers’ run to the Conference Finals.
When he wasn’t getting shots blocked, MacKinnon had to contend with the strong play of Vasilevskiy, who often got over to deny his deadly accurate shot from the left circle that includes the one-timer. He’d been frustrated. In fact, the Avalanche showed some frustration following the first period Sunday night.
However, on a strong forecheck shift where a delayed call allowed them to get an extra skater on for a six-on-five, some splendid work from captain Gabriel Landeskog allowed Bowen Byram to get a perfect pass across for a MacKinnon one-timer that just squeaked past Vasilevskiy short side at 1:54 to tie the game.
Following the goal on what was a great shot that Vasilevskiy couldn’t quite get over and seal off the goalpost, the Lightning mildly protested it. Stamkos immediately spoke to both refs Wes McCauley and Gord Dwyer about the play.
As usual, nobody on ABC/ESPN knew what was going on. However, neither did I. This wasn’t a question of offside. But rather about if Paul got clear possession at the same time the penalty was called.
Former NHL ref Dave Jackson chimed in to announcers Sean McDonough and Ray Ferraro that although Paul touched the puck, it wasn’t long enough to be ruled as possession. Had it been, that would’ve led to the play being whistled dead and a Colorado power play. By the definition, they got it right.
Instead, the game was tied. MacKinnon’s 13th of the playoffs swung the game. From that point on, it was the faster skating Avalanche who got the better chances. They started to use their skating legs to put the Lightning on the defensive. That created more pressure and forced Vasilevskiy into some difficult stops.
Although the Bolts kept coming on the forecheck, you never got the feeling they’d get another goal. Unless it was created by Stamkos, Kucherov or Palat, it wasn’t happening. As much as he tried, Kucherov had seven attempts blocked. One of the game’s greatest playoff players couldn’t find the room to get his lethal shot through a stingy Avalanche defense.
The other serious threats were Hedman and the underrated Mikhail Sergachev, who despite getting victimized by Kadri on the crushing overtime winner in Game Four, had a good series. He got extended shifts due to Cernak playing banged up literally.
It was actually their checking line that had Riley Nash with Pierre-Edouard Bellemare and three-peat winner Pat Maroon (was bidding for four straight Cups) that was very effective. They got pucks in and forechecked. The issue was aside from Maroon, who scored a nice goal during the Stanley Cup Finals, neither Bellemare or Nash have much finishing touch.
The best opportunity the Lightning got came in transition. A two-on-one pass for a Kucherov shot just missed wide. He had daylight, but was unable to bury it. That came over a minute into the third period with his team trailing by one.
A player who was outstanding during the series was Byram. A former first round pick who replaced injured top four puck moving defenseman Samuel Girard, he had a great night. In 31 shifts (25:48), he finished with a primary assist on the MacKinnon equalizer along with two shots, six attempts, eight hits, a block and plus-one rating.
The 21-year old was picked fourth in the 2019 NHL Draft. In 20 games this postseason, Byram tallied nine assists and went plus-15 while playing second pair with key deadline pickup Josh Manson. Talk about a guy who is gonna get paid this summer. Will it be in Colorado?
It was over halfway through the period that the Avalanche skill and speed again came through. On a good play started by Manson up for a speeding MacKinnon, who got into the Lightning zone, he had his pass take a nice bounce off McDonagh right to Lehkonen who scored what proved to be the Stanley Cup winning goal with 7:32 left in the second.
Lehkonen was another great piece Nordiques/Avalanche legendary GM Joe Sakic added at the trade deadline. The two-way forward used his speed and grit to be a factor during the Avalanche’s third Stanley Cup. The former Canadien registered eight goals with six helpers for 14 points. He’s a restricted free agent in July. A year away from unrestricted status, Lehkonen could see his salary more than double. He had a cap hit of $2.4 million.
The interesting decision that awaits Sakic and the Avalanche is who they choose to keep. How do they let Kadri walk? He had a great season. The former Leaf posted a career best 87 points (28-59-87) and added 15 points (7-8-15) in the playoffs to shed the ridiculous label that he was the reason Toronto couldn’t win. He’ll have the memorable OT winner and this Cup for the rest of his career.
At 31, Kadri will be a big target for many teams who have the room to fit him in. The center had an AAV of $4.5 million. It’s going to take between 9-10 million to sign him. Would he take less term for a little more money? Or what about staying in Colorado where he had so much success and won? Very interesting questions.
The Avalanche have over $26 million in cap space. However, they will have to decide on Kadri, Kuemper, Manson, Valeri Nichushkin, Andre Burakovsky and other UFA’s. They can opt to keep Lehkonen for a year through salary arbitration. He’d at least see a two million increase if they want to save money.
While all of this can be discussed during the off-season that officially started Monday with the 2022 NHL Draft to follow July 7-8 at Bell Centre in Montreal where the Canadiens will have the first pick, let’s get to why the Avalanche didn’t need to go to a deciding Game Seven back at home.
After holding a 13-9 edge in shots during a second period in which the refs let a lot of stuff go including some undetected trips by Colorado players, the Avalanche seized the moment in the third period.
As MacKinnon pointed out in a revealing interview with ESPN reporter Emily Kaplan during intermission, they had the fresher legs. He was proven right.
With the Lightning on fumes from an astonishing third straight run to the Stanley Cup Finals in defense of their last two Cups, the amount of wear and tear really showed in the final period.
Despite being down a goal in front of fans who encouraged their heroes, they couldn’t mount anything. It was the first three minutes in that they had their best push. However, no shots reached Kuemper.
A diving MacKinnon made a block less than a minute in to set the tone. You saw Colorado hound the Lightning skaters by getting in the shooting lanes and passing seams to break up plays. They really frustrated the Bolts, who started to force the action. Even Kucherov had some uncharacteristic turnovers you rarely see.
It took the Lightning over half the period to get a shot on goal. It was a long McDonagh drive from center ice that Kuemper easily handled. The only notable save he had to make was when Palat got the puck over for a Kucherov one-timer that Kuemper denied on a mini two-on-one.
The only other big Kucherov chance came earlier in the period. However, he missed an open side on a Corey Perry feed off a two-on-one. That was the best opportunity the Lightning had at tying it. The former Hart winner just couldn’t connect. It was a frustrating night.
In a period totally dominated by the Avalanche, they really could’ve won by more. But Vasilevskiy wouldn’t allow it. He gave his team every chance to come back. The former Conn Smythe winner was superb making several splendid saves to rob Colorado players. None better than a terrific stop on Valeri Nichushkin point blank.
Vasilevskiy really proved why he’s the game’s best goalie. Even in a Stanley Cup where the Avalanche put up seven in a lopsided Game Two, he got better as the series went on. The Avs had a lot of puck luck on some of their goals. They created it.
Aside from not having much left in the gas tank, the biggest difference was how the Avalanche swarmed the two-time defending champs. They attacked at every opportunity. It was a brilliant Vasilevskiy who made 28 saves including nine in a lopsided final period. He really couldn’t have done more.
Aside from the long McDonagh shot and Kucherov chance, the Bolts only got two more shots on Kuemper, who handled them without any problem. Even with the sellout crowd of 19,092 encouraging their team with “Let’s Go Bolts!!!” chants, they were only able to muster a Killorn tip-in try and Paul shot with over a minute left in Game Six.
The Lightning just couldn’t get much set up even with Vasilevskiy on the bench for a six-on-five. The Avs surrounded Kucherov and Palat. Both of who had good series. They blocked four attempts late including two from Kucherov with his final one coming with 34 seconds remaining.
It was that kind of attention to detail that allowed the Avalanche to closeout the Lightning on the road. With Kucherov scrambling to the bench after breaking his twig, the Tampa equipment manager didn’t have a new stick ready.
That resulted in an ugly scene with a visibly frustrated Kucherov tossing his glove at the poor manager. He wasn’t on for the final seconds. It didn’t matter. That’s how well the Avalanche defended. They protected a one-goal lead like it was much bigger. Their desire to win the franchise’s first Cup in 21 years put them over the top.
When the buzzer sounded, the Avalanche mobbed one another on the ice. You had a surreal scene with MacKinnon diving on top of Erik Johnson and hugging him. He’d been vocal about how they hadn’t accomplished anything after losing in the second round again last year. This time, he along with captain Gabriel Landeskog were Stanley Cup champions.
It was a true T-E-A-M effort. The Avalanche were crowned champs because they were the best team left standing. Even if they caught breaks along the way, you need to take advantage. They did in the first round and Western Conference Final.
Colorado finished 16-4 in capturing their third Cup. Two losses to the Blues in a good second round. Two defeats versus the Lightning in a very hard fought Stanley Cup. Four games decided by a single goal. Two won by the Avalanche in overtime. They went 3-1 in one-goal games in the series. The Lightning took Game Five in Colorado 3-2 to force the Avs to dig deeper.
Most astonishing is the Avalanche only lost one road game during their run. They went a remarkable 9-1 outscoring opponents 43-29. They were 7-3 at home outscoring opponents 42-26.
Add it all up and the ’21-22 Colorado Avalanche were the most dominant team in the Stanley Cup Playoffs. Of their 16 victories, 10 were in comeback fashion. By far the most. The Lightning had five and the Rangers four by comparison. Those were the last three teams left.
While the Avalanche celebrated on one end, you had exhausted Lightning players down on the ice in a sadder scene. Palat being one of those Bolts who gave everything he had. He finished with 11 goals and 10 assists for 21 points. The second most behind team leader Kucherov, who finished with 27 points (8-19-27) in the postseason.
With the Lightning close to the cap limit for 2022-23, will they find a way to keep Palat. A seventh round gem in 2011 taken 204th. Now 31, he’s been an outstanding player. In 628 career games, Pally as he’s affectionately known has 423 points (143-280-423) and a plus-147 rating. The clutch playoff performer with a flair for the dramatic as he proved against the Rangers and Avalanche, is 48-46-94 in 138 postseason games.
Now an unrestricted free agent, Palat could cash in. He earned $5.3 million for the final year of his contract. If Tampa GM Julian BriseBois can keep him, he’ll have to get creative. That could mean moving a player to free up necessary space. Palat is in line for at least $6 million. A team could offer more in dollars and term.
That’s the reality of the salary cap era. It’s why what the Lightning did under coach Jon Cooper was so impressive. They made it as far as they could possibly go despite losing their whole third line last year. They did so on sheer guts and determination.
A day following losing the Cup after holding it for over two years, it was revealed that Brayden Point suffered a significant quad tear. How he played Games One and Two of the Stanley Cup is incredible. The Lightning wisely shut him down. He should make a full recovery in a few weeks according to Tampa reporter Joe Smith of The Athletic.
Kucherov dealt with a meniscus injury during the postseason. You wouldn’t have known it the way he played. He still was a serious threat who finished every check and played the way he always has.
McDonagh battled through a mangled finger. As we know, the former Rangers captain is a warrior. He once played on a broken foot in an excruciating series loss seven years ago to the Lightning. He took a boarding minor in the final game that handed the Avs their only power play. But the Lightning killed it off to hang around.
Maybe the biggest injury was to Cirelli. He suffered an AC joint sprain that’ll require surgery. He still played through it with Cooper limiting his minutes by moving up Paul, who really boosted his stock this summer. I’m not going to do it now. But I have some interesting thoughts on the gritty Paul, who filled in well at center and won face-offs.
Bellemare also played through a meniscus injury. What I want to know is how Cernak was able to avoid serious injury after some of those huge blocks. It reminded me of Ryan Lindgren. Cernak is a gamer. No way will he be moved in the off-season.
Injuries are always part of the playoff grind. The Avalanche won without Girard, who suffered a broken sternum against the Blues in the second round. They were able to overcome the loss due to the play of Byram and believe it or not, Jack Johnson. Yes. The same Jack Johnson our fans treated like crap. He gave them important minutes as the sixth defenseman.
He and Erik Johnson were once taken very high in back-to-back drafts. Erik went first overall in 2006 to St. Louis. Jack was picked third by Carolina in 2005. Both waited a long time to win Cups. As did Amdrew Cogliano.
To see Landeskog hand the Cup off to Erik Johnson first was pretty cool. He nearly retired due to all the injuries. Ditto for Cogliano and Jack Johnson who got their moments before MacKinnon, Kuemper and superstar Cale Makar, who added the Conn Smythe to his trophy collection that includes a Calder, Norris and his first Cup.
Before the Stanley Cup was passed around in a small circle due to way too many people on the ice (biggest gripe compared to old days), you had an emotional handshake between the two teams. You could see the respect factor with the Avalanche players having some positive words for the Lightning and all they accomplished.
It’s always great to see players acknowledge a special goalie like Vasilevskiy. Something we saw during what felt like the longest televised Stanley Cup celebration on network TV. ABC did a great job sticking with it. Kaplan had plenty of interviews on ice.
Even the legendary Kevin Weekes interviewed a very gracious Cooper afterwards. Is there a better loser than him? It helps that he won the Cup twice. He’s taken the Lightning to four of the last eight Finals. They lost to the Blackhawks in six games once. Then had some tough times including the Columbus sweep before lifting the trophy in 2020 and ’21.
What they achieved in winning 11 consecutive series may never be done again in the cap era. He said he was most proud of what this group did. They are a modern day Dynasty even though they fell short of a historic three-peat. They nearly beat four 50-win teams. Something that’s never been done in Stanley Cup history.
You wonder what Corey Perry was thinking after losing in the Finals for a third straight year. He also lost in 2020 as a Dallas Star and in 2021 as a Montreal Canadien to the Lightning. Now he knows how Marian Hossa felt. The only difference is the former Hart winner won the Cup with the Ducks in 2007. He’s still a good player. He contributed six goals and five assists in the playoffs.
Pat Maroon saw his Cup streak end at three. He was lucky to not get a penalty for a cheap slash after the Lehkonen goal. That should’ve been called. He was frustrated that a penalty wasn’t called on Manson earlier on that shift. But there was no excuse in that situation.
Like I said, they let a lot go. There easily could’ve been five more power plays. Three for Tampa and two for Colorado. It was decided at five-on-five. A Lightning strength that wasn’t in the last game. They didn’t have enough left.
In case you were wondering about ratings, it was a rousing success. ABC saw a huge turnout for the Stanley Cup. As much criticism as many gave them for some of their broadcast, nobody can question viewership which dramatically increased. Plus their end of Stanley Cup coverage that included a great video montage of the postseason dwarfed
OLN Versus NBC. They aren’t missed. Though I wish Kathryn Tappen was still a part of hockey. She still follows the sport.
It matters that they’re drawing so many new fans. It’ll help grow the sport even more. I really liked Bill Daly’s speech before presenting the Conn Smythe and Stanley Cup. With commissioner Gary Bettman recovering from Covid, it was Daly who stood in and did a great job by heaping praise on what tremendous champions the Lightning were. Most fans stayed and saluted their heroes and cheered.
Daly sure paid homage to both teams in what was a great Stanley Cup. He gave the Avalanche their due. The only thing that was different or a distraction were all the wives and blonde girlfriends (they all looked related) on the ice along with family. Plus cameramen and wires everywhere making it impossible for players to take a victory lap with Lord Stanley. That shouldn’t be. Get these people off the ice. Let the Avalanche players have their moment. It’s ridiculous.
You didn’t have that chaos in the glory days. Teams could celebrate easier without all the traffic. The Avalanche also became the first team to damage the Cup on the ice. As they were getting ready to take the team picture, Nicolas Aube-Kubel dropped it as he dove into the photo. Landeskog knew it.
You cannot make it up. It was a momentous occasion. Hopefully, the Keepers of the Cup can repair the damage. That Cup will be doing plenty of travel around the world.
I was going to include my thoughts on the Hall Of Fame. It was a gong show. The HHOF is a joke. I’ll make it short and sweet.
How Alexander Mogilny still isn’t in is a joke. They’d rather put in Daniel and Henrik Sedin on their first year of eligibility and include people nobody has ever heard of. Congrats to Roberto Luongo and Daniel Alfredsson. Nothing against The Sedins. Both great players who are deserving of the honor. They should’ve waited.
I wrote a column in 2019 on the omission of Mogilny. Yet here we still are. What is the holdup? Is it the Canadian bias from former players in Toronto? Is it the ridiculous politics that the sport has become due to the war in Ukraine? Mogilny was better than Alfredsson and both Sedins. He should’ve been in a while ago.
You talk about a great player who sacrificed everything to come over to North America. He risked his life. He didn’t have permission like Slava Fetisov. Mogilny scored goals that left your hair standing up. He was electrifying. A triple gold member. A Stanley Cup winner. A 76-goal season in ’92-93 when he formed a dynamic duo in Buffalo playing alongside Pat LaFontaine. Mogilny and Teemu Selanne each had 76 that season.
Mogilny was productive everywhere he went. The Sabres, Canucks, Devils and Maple Leafs. He was over a point-per-game for his career. Neither Sedin was as exciting as they were to watch with Henrik winning the Hart and Daniel a Pearson. As great as Alfredsson was, he never was a point-per-game for his career.
They’re all Hall Of Fame players. That’s not the issue here. It’s how the committee has handled it. They’ve butchered it. They are insulting longtime hockey fans and media like Larry Brooks, who again devoted part of his Slap Shots Sunday column to Mogilny a day before Monday when the latest disappointment came. Just call it the Hall Of Shame!
How is Stan Fischler not in? All these years. His contributions to the sport have been immense. I interned for The Hockey Maven. He is a living legend and hockey thesaurus. Nobody tells better stories than Fischler.
For over a half a century, he’s been involved with the game. Whether it was working for the Rangers or for the Islanders and Devils in a broadcasting capacity, he has done it all. So did his wife Shirley. She was a pioneer for women in the business. How do they continue to ignore her and Stan?
It’s absurd. The Fischler Report is still being published even now. Friend of the site Sean McCaffrey contributes to a column that appears in The Hockey News. Stan loved his book on the real history of the New York Rangers. I’ve covered it.
We all know they’ve overlooked the original Rangers who helped the franchise win half their Cups. The Bread Line of Frank Boucher, Bill and Bun Cook. Dave Kerr. Bryan Hextall. Ching Johnson. Lester Patrick. Lynn Patrick. Neil Colville. Lorne Chabot. Chuck Rayner.
So many great names synonymous with the early success of the Original Six franchise. Madison Square Garden refuses to recognize them. The real blame goes to the Rangers organization, who waited way too long to honor legends Andy Bathgate, Harry Howell and Jean Ratelle. They never even had a night for Emile Francis.
You think Fischler hasn’t covered this important topic. He is an encyclopedia of knowledge. Stan turned 90 this year. He’s still as sharp as ever. He lives in Israel witu his family, but still remains dedicated to the sport. He’s a legend.
One of my favorite parts of working the Devils production truck in ’00-01 before I moved onto ESPN thanks to Stan, was listening to his tales of wit that started those meetings. The jokes. Some that can’t be repeated if you know what I mean. 😉 He’s a character. But most importantly, a professional. My greatest lesson.
I’m glad Fischler went into the U.S. Hockey Hall Of Fame. He sure deserved it. Even that took too long. Would you think the Rangers would acknowledge it when he was in town?? Of course not. The Islanders did. I would hope the Devils did even if their organization isn’t what it used to be.
The history of the sport should hold a special place. But when you look real closely at how the Hall Of Shame operates and the Rangers, it really raises an eye. I’d it that hard to get it right?
One last thing. In an email with Brooks on the HHOF, he had an interesting thought on Jeremy Roenick. Although he is one of the greatest American born players with over 500 goals, his career took a nosedive. The trade out of Chicago hurt. He was still a very good player for the Coyotes where he played witu Keith Tkachuk. But wasn’t as explosive. Ditto for the Flyers where they couldn’t quite get it done in ’04 against the Lightning.
Perhaps Roenick hanging on at the end to get to 500 goals hurt his candidacy. He’s never even mentioned. His politics probably doesn’t help. But should that even matter? NBC proved how out of touch they were. JR is a great listen when he appears on After The Whistle with Craig Rivet and Andrew Peters. He pulls no punches. That’s why.
Regardless if you’re pro or con on Roenick, Brooks agreed with me on Rick Middleton versus Guy Carbonneau. He also didn’t take issue with the suggestion of the much overlooked Steve Larmer, who was over a point-per-game while being a terrific two-way player who helped the Rangers the Cup in ’94.
There are other examples of players who should be in. The point is they’ve turned the Hall into a joke. Until Mogilny is in, I’ll continue to skip over the event in November.
This is probably my longest post of the season. For good reason. A lot had to be said. To put a bow on a great season. A terrific Stanley Cup. Plus the HHOF nonsense.
Congratulations to the Avalanche and the Lightning! Here’s hoping it’s our team next year.