Ondrej Palat scored his seventh career postseason winner with 6:22 remaining in the third period to keep the Lightning alive in their chase for a three-peat. They defeated the Avalanche 3-2 to hold the celebration in Colorado and force Game Six back in Tampa.
Twice, the Avalanche came back to tie the score. Valeri Nichushkin and Cale Makar tallied in the tough home defeat. But their bid for a third Stanley Cup fell short in Game Five.
It was again the heroics of Palat who delivered in the clutch for the Lightning. His one-timer from the slot snuck through Darcy Kuemper and took a good bounce at 13:38 of the third period to give the Bolts a 3-2 lead.
The play was set up thanks to a good forecheck. After Makar tied it when he had the good fortune to have his shot carom off Erik Cernak and in at 2:31 of the third, Mikhail Sergachev hit the crossbar. But it would be Sergachev who passed back for Victor Hedman, who found Palat open for the game-winner.
It was a well played game. The best of the Stanley Cup. The Lightning were able to do a better job managing the puck to move it up through the neutral zone and forecheck. The Avalanche continued to use their superior speed to generate scoring chances.
Twice, the Lightning went ahead in the first two periods. Jan Rutta scored the game’s first goal when he took a Corey Perry feed and surprised Kuemper with a shot that went underneath his glove at 15:23 of the first.
With Vasilevskiy making 12 saves in an evenly played period, the Lightning took a one-goal lead to the locker room. But the Avalanche ramped it up in a better second period to get the crowd going.
Finally, Nichushkin was able to score his fourth of the series when he rebounded home a deflected Makar shot that fooled Vasilevskiy. The puck bounced out of his glove right to Nichushkin for the tying goal at 5:07.
Although they continued to apply pressure, the Avalanche never went ahead. Vasilevskiy remained sharp by making 13 saves in the period.
Following offsetting penalties on Alex Killorn and J.T. Compher, Makar took down Palat to put the Lightning on a four-on-three power play. This time, they converted. Jon Cooper took a risk by going with four forwards.
It worked when off a good fake shot and pass from Stamkos, Nikita Kucherov was able to blast a one-timer through a Perry screen past Kuemper into the top half of the net to put the Bolts up 2-1. It was a huge goal.
Even bigger, they killed off a Ross Colton high-sticking minor late in the period. Playing a bit more aggressively and able to get sticks on pucks and make key clears, they limited the dangerous Colorado power play to two shots. Both saved by Vasilevskiy.
The third was well played. On a good play in transition started by Nathan MacKinnon, Devon Toews got the puck across for a pinching Makar, whose shot took a good bounce off Cernak to beat Vasilevskiy with 17:29 left.
It was similar to Game Four. In that one, the Avalanche tied it up when Andrew Cogliano had a puck deflect off him on a Nico Sturm rebound. They would win that game with Nazem Kadri scoring the overtime winner.
But this time, the Lightning hung in there. Vasilevskiy made the key saves after the Avalanche push with the crowd chanting, “We Want The Cup!!!”
Eventually, it was the Lightning who were able to come out of their zone and catch the Avalanche napping. On some good pressure, Sergachev and Hedman combined to set up Palat for a quick shot that Kuemper almost saved. But the puck trickled through his pads and banked in to make it 3-2 with 6:22 left in regulation.
In a twist of fate, the Avalanche got caught for a bench minor for too many men on the ice with 2:43 left in the third. Perry noticed it immediately and alerted the officials who had to call it. Colorado had a bad line change at an inopportune time.
Although they didn’t score on the five-on-four, the Bolts killed two minutes off the clock. That left the Avalanche in scramble mode getting Kuemper off with over 40 seconds left for a six-on-five.
They did get one chance. However, the shot never reached the net due to the Lightning defense. With under 10 seconds left, a hustling Anthony Cirelli forced Makar offside after his shot was stopped by Vasilevskiy.
Another offside sealed the win for the Lightning. They skated off with the grueling one-goal win to force a Game Six back home in Tampa tomorrow night. If they can win, they’ll have a chance at history. Only the 1942 Maple Leafs have ever rallied back to win the Cup from a 3-1 series deficit.
With Cirelli unable to take draws, the Lightning relied heavily on Stamkos and Nick Paul in the circle. They combined to go 34-for-60 on face-offs. Tampa went 40-and-34 due in large part to the work of Stamkos and Paul.
In a losing effort, Makar had a goal and assist. He’s up to 29 points (8-21-29) in the playoffs. Only Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl are ahead of him. If the Avalanche win the Cup, he’s the favorite to win the Conn Smythe.
If they can pull off the comeback and make history, the Lightning would have both Kucherov (8-19-27) and the clutch Palat (11-9-20) in the mix for the Conn Smythe.
It should be interesting to see what happens. The hockey has gotten better. The games are very exciting which bodes well for ABC/ESPN in the ratings. Will it have a dramatic conclusion and go seven? We’ll find out Sunday night.