Controversy surrounded the conclusion of a well played Game Four won by the Avalanche in overtime 3-2 over the Lightning in Tampa.
They now are one win away from winning their third Stanley Cup. Game Five is Friday in Colorado.
Unfortunately, the goal Nazem Kadri scored at 12:02 of sudden death wasn’t without controversy. The key Avalanche center returned after missing the last four games due to a Evander Kane cheap shot that injured him versus Edmonton in the Western Conference Final.
Kadri was back for Game Four of the Stanley Cup Finals. He scored the biggest goal of the series with 7:58 remaining in the first overtime. At least so far. Unless the Lightning can rally back from a 3-1 deficit. They’re already aiming to make history by coming back from an 0-2 hole in both the Conference Finals and Stanley Cup Finals.
The Avalanche are a game away due to their ability to come from behind. Twice, they trailed by a goal last night. That included a fortunate bounce off Andrew Cogliano who had a Nico Sturm rebound carom off him past Andrei Vasilevskiy to tie it up with 17:07 left in the third period.
A critical tying goal that came courtesy of their fourth line. Without the grit of Darren Helm, Sturm and the very playoff experienced Cogliano, the game might not have reached OT. That big shift by the checking unit proved large in Colorado’s comeback win.
What could haunt the Lightning is their inability to excel on special teams. They’ll need to dig deeper than they ever have. As Victor Hedman told reporters following the tough loss, they’ve never trailed a series three games to one. Now, they must play their best game to win in enemy territory to force a Game Six back in their building. Something captain Steven Stamkos alluded to.
The Bolts got off to a great start. Anthony Cirelli scored 36 seconds into the game when he got to his own rebound and beat Darcy Kuemper. The do everything two-way center out-hustled the Avs in front on a Erik Cernak shot to score for a second straight game to put the Lightning up early.
But in a first period they controlled by out-shooting the Avalanche 17-4 including 9-1 at one point, the Lightning were unable to extend the lead. That included a failed power play that’s hurt them so far. In a game where refs Wes McCauley and Kelly Sutherland let a lot of stuff go, they were 0-for-2 on the five-on-four.
Thus far, the Lightning have only scored once on the power play. Meanwhile, the Avalanche have now converted six times when on the man-advantage. That included an excuse me goal from a struggling Nathan MacKinnon that tied it at one over five minutes into the second.
With Hedman off for interference on Sturm who he knocked down, the Avs moved the puck around and had some big keeps before Mikko Rantanen had a shot that took a favorable carom right off a driving MacKinnon, whose back skate deflected the puck just past an unlucky Vasilevskiy. It was his first goal of the series.
It’s that kind of luck which sometimes determines these big games. On Thursday night at Amalie Arena, the Avalanche had it. They got the breaks which helped them take a 3-1 series lead with a chance to wrap it up tomorrow night on ABC.
After failing to convert on a second power play where Kuemper made a huge glove save to deny Stamkos from the slot, the Lightning got a great goal from Hedman to take back the lead with 9:18 left in the period.
On a simple outlet from Jan Rutta, Hedman was able to skate through the middle of the ice and blow by two soft stick waves before surprising Kuemper with a deceptive backhand that beat him far side at 10:42.
A brilliant play by the future Hall Of Famer. Hedman got his third of the postseason to restore a one-goal lead in favor of the Bolts.
Over a minute later, Stamkos got nabbed for a soft hook on Gabriel Landeskog. To me watching, it looked like a legal stick lift by the Lightning captain. But they called it hooking. It wasn’t the only weak call. I didn’t think Bowen Byram should’ve been in the box either for another phantom hook on Hedman. It mirrored the Stamkos minor.
Despite some great zone time spent in the Tampa zone, the Avalanche were unable to score on Vasilevskiy. He made the key saves to keep his team ahead. Unlike the opening period where it was Kuemper making the critical stops, it was Vasilevskiy who made 16 of 17 saves in a stronger second period by Colorado.
The only goal in the third came thanks to some strong work from the Avalanche down low. On a play started by the gritty Helm, it was Sturm who was able to chip a backhand floater towards the net that banked right off of Cogliano to beat Vasilevskiy only 2:53 into the period.
It was another good bounce for the Avalanche. Both their goals in regulation didn’t cleanly beat Vasilevskiy, who played well throughout. He made 34 saves on 37 shots to suffer the hard luck defeat.
As the third moved on, you could feel the intensity pick up. Both sides knew it was only going to take the next goal to decide the outcome.
The Lightning came the closest. On a clean face-off win by Stamkos, the puck came right back for a Kucherov shot that hit the crossbar with 11:33 left in regulation. It was well executed. But another example of luck not being on the Tampa side.
In a similar defensive minded style they were able to execute to perfection at five-on-five in the last round against the Rangers, the Lightning nearly won it in the final minute.
But unlike Ondrej Palat closing one game that swung the Eastern Conference Final, this time Nick Paul was denied in tight by Kuemper, who also made a good save on Hedman. That proved large.
In overtime, it was mostly Avs. Able to use the long change to their advantage to fuel their transition game led by Cale Makar, Devon Toews and MacKinnon, they really tilted the ice against a tired looking Bolts.
Vasilevskiy made some strong saves on Val Nichushkin and Makar. He also denied Logan O’Connor on a mini break to keep the Lightning alive. He really did his part also denying Landeskog before finally catching a break when a Byram high shot drew iron.
Following the stoppage midway through the overtime, Ryan McDonagh and Mikhail Sergachev got caught on for a long shift. Both stalwarts were on for the final 1:34 of sudden death.
However, that’s not the story. After another big save by Vasilevskiy on Landeskog, the Lightning were able to change the forwards. While Cirelli, Alex Killorn and Brandon Hagel got off for Kucherov, Stamkos and Palat, a smart play by Kuemper got the puck to Artturi Lehkonen.
Lehkonen was able to move it up for Kadri at the Lightning blue line. He was able to do the rest by going around Sergachev and inside to fire a shot that at first nobody could tell what happened. Astonishingly, even McCauley didn’t see it behind the net.
Neither did ESPN/ABC lead play-by-play man Sean McDonough. He botched the call. He thought Vasilevskiy saved it. Seeing it live, it didn’t look like he did. It was strange. It wasn’t until Byram noticed the puck was in behind the Tampa net that the Avalanche celebrated.
At least Ray Ferraro corrected McDonough by describing what a play Kadri made to win the game. He probably had the production truck in his ear telling him it was in. They have those different looks in the truck that show such key plays.
But after ABC signed off the air following Emily Kaplan’s interview with Kadri, who said he was happy to get into the fray and contribute, even indicating that he wasn’t sure he scored, that’s when all hell broke loose.
Elliotte Friedman followed up a tweet from Lightning beat reporter Joe Smith who indicated that Cooper cut his postgame press conference short due to what they saw on the video replay.
Unfortunately, it was clear as day that the Avalanche had one too many skaters still on the ice when Kadri came on. I was able to pause it and count six before the line change was completed. Here’s how the play looked. Freeze it at 18 seconds and you’ll notice what happened.
Obviously, it’s a tough way to lose a game. Especially one as critical in the Stanley Cup. Kadri made a great play and shot to score the overtime winner. Take nothing away from him. He won it.
But I agree with what Cooper said on the winner. This one will sting for a while. Especially if his team can’t come back. To their credit, they said the right things.
Being able to pull off a 3-1 comeback is all about having the right mindset. The Lightning have enough Stanley Cup experience in that room to give it a shot. Like Stamkos noted they won’t go down easily. It’ll be interesting to see if they can get Game Five at Colorado and force Game Six back at home.
When you have the well respected Kevin Weekes stating the obvious about the too many men on the ice call that was missed in a good segment with the biased John Buccigross (could he openly root anymore for the Avalanche geez), it speaks volumes. Then, the NHL showed their incompetence by releasing a fugazi statement on the goal.
Why even bother? It’s an insult to hockey fans. They’d be better off saying nothing. It’s no different than the NBA or NFL do the same thing. The difference being is the NHL can’t even admit the four blind mice got it wrong. Ugh.
It doesn’t matter now. It won’t change the outcome of Game Four. It’s in the books. Avalanche 3. Lightning 2. In overtime. Kadri from Lehkonen and Kuemper at 12:02.
At this point in the Stanley Cup Finals, the Avalanche are just a little bit better than the Lightning. Whether it’s due to them being fresher from two layups that afforded them eight days off after dismantling the goalie and defense optional Oilers in the Conference Finals, their combination of size, skill, speed and grit have been a factor against the Lightning.
It’s easy to point to how much hockey the two-time defending champs have played the last three years including this run. They already dug deep in the first round to defeat the Maple Leafs. Then reeled off four in a row against the Rangers last round when our team had them on the ropes until Kucherov and Stamkos scored power play goals. Palat’s winner changed things.
There’s something to be said about the grit and determination the Lightning have shown. You see it whenever Erik Cernak sells out to block shots like the one that injured him. He returned, but hardly played. Ditto for Stamkos, who blocked four himself. Tampa had 34 blocks including seven from Sergachev, five from Palat and four from Cirelli.
Shot attempts were 90-68 in favor of Colorado. That was despite getting off to a slow start. It indicates how many shots they take. Once they get going in transition and on the forecheck, they’re pretty tough to stop.
The Lightning have done a good job limiting them offensively at even strength. But will need their best game to extend the series. That means concise passes and better clears along with stronger special teams. Even in a game there weren’t many penalties, they came out on the wrong side.
You could also make a good argument that there were at least three misses in the third period. Even McDonough and Ferraro noticed that the Avalanche got away with a couple of obvious ones including a trip from Landeskog on Hedman in the neutral zone.
As bad as their power play has been, the Lightning didn’t get the chance to see if they could decide it due to McCauley and Sutherland letting everything go. We’ll never know.
What is intriguing is following Game Five to see what is left in the tank for the Lightning. A championship team that’s reached the final round three straight times having repeated.
You have to go all the way back to 1982 for the last time a team appeared in three consecutive Finals. That would be the Islanders Dynasty that won four straight Cups and won a playoff record 19 straight series. Edmonton finally dethroned them in ’84.
What the Bolts have achieved in the very challenging salary cap era is remarkable. It might never be done again. Regardless if they have one more incredible push at a three-peat, it’s been a great run.
We’ll learn more about them starting tomorrow night.