DENVER (AP) — Cale Makar barely cracked a smile after scoring his second goal and seventh of the night for Colorado. He punched Mikko Rantanen’s fist to thank him for the pass and skidded to the bench.
He and Avalanche are calm, confident, and rolling. They are now two wins away from dethroning the two-time defending champions.
Looking like the better team by far, the Avalanche crushed the Tampa Bay Lightning 7-0 in Game 2 of the Stanley Cup Final on Saturday night to take a 2-0 lead in the best-of-seven series.
Coach Jared Bednar called it “the closest thing to a game’s perfection you can get from your players.”
“I feel like we played our identity to a ‘T’ tonight,” Makar said. “We had some good goals and things like that. … It was a little weird tonight. Obviously we’re getting chances, but the guys were able to capitalize, so that’s a good part of it.”
Valeri Nichushkin scored his seventh and eighth playoff goals and remained the best player on the ice in the final, Game 1 overtime hero Andre Burakovsky again beating Andrei Vasilevskiy and even defensive back Josh Manson and to grinder 35-year-old Darren Helm. he got into the fun with a goal apiece. Makar, who didn’t even shoot on goal in Game 1, scored twice in the third period, prompting chants of “We want the Cup!” of an angry crowd.
“They are playing at an elite level right now, give them credit. We’re not,” Lightning trainer Jon Cooper said. “They are two good teams. They’re just playing at a much higher level right now than we are.”
Rarely have the Lightning been completely outclassed during this run of postseason success, but neither have they faced an opponent like the Avalanche, who forced them to make one uncharacteristic mistake after another. Colorado was dominant in all facets of the game to pull within two wins of its first title since 2001 and the first for this Nathan MacKinnon-led core.
The Avalanche go to Tampa for Game 3 on Monday night in the series even though MacKinnon hasn’t scored a goal in the series, who has at times played like a man possessed in an effort to finally break through and lift the Cup. They still became only the third team in NHL history to score more than three goals in the first period of Games 1 and 2 in the finals.
“We played a pretty good game,” Helm said. “We just played a full 60-minute game.”
The dominant performance began when he pounced on an early error by typically reliable Lightning defender Erik Cernak when he dropped the puck down the blue line in one of the game’s first at-bats. It was all Avalanche after that.
Their aggressive forward drive led them to draw a penalty on veteran Ryan McDonagh, scoring on the ensuing power play when Burakovsky fed Nichushkin for the first time of the night. It wasn’t the last, and Colorado spilled it with six of the game’s first seven shots and complete territorial dominance with much of the game played on the Tampa Bay end.
With Vasilevskiy, whose play was the key to Lightning’s incredible ability to bounce back after a playoff loss, looking shaky and even lowering his head after letting Makar beat him cleanly in one of many 2v1 races, Avalanche did most of all their offensive zone time. The team with the highest score this postseason held a clinic against the team that has played more hockey than anyone else in the last two years.
That may finally be taking its toll, and is exacerbated by the breakneck speed with which Avalanche plays. Again, they not only outplayed the Lightning, but used quick feet to force errors that turned into goals.
“We came out with a purpose,” said forward Andew Cogliano, who returned after missing Game 1 with a right finger injury. “We got to our game, we skated from the puck drop and we just didn’t give up.”
Tampa Bay fell to 18-2 after a loss from the start of the first round in 2020. The 18-straight streak ended in the Eastern Conference finals against the New York Rangers as the Lightning fell 2-0 before roaring back . though it’s hard to see Colorado falling into the same trap.
How Lightning lost this by far his biggest blast loss during this run came as a surprise to almost everyone.
“Am I surprised we missed 7-zip?” said lightning captain Steven Stamkos. “I mean, I don’t think we saw it coming.”
Even if players dismiss the concept of momentum from game to game during a playoff series, his play on the champs combined with a 7-0 record on the road should fill the Avalanche with confidence. But they may need to dive into their deep pool again due to injuries.
After recovering Andrew Cogliano from missing the season opener with a right finger injury, the Avalanche lost Burakovsky again in the second period. Burakovsky blocked a shot in the first game of the West finals and has been playing through pain ever since. Bednar said he would be reevaluated before Game 2.
Colorado is inflicting a lot of pain on Tampa Bay, which resorted to some tough stuff after falling behind. Of course, even MacKinnon was throwing hits in the third period even though the game was well controlled.
Darcy Kuemper was hardly tested in the net for Colorado, picking up the shutout with 17 saves.
“He was just rock solid,” Manson said. “It was exactly what we needed to be.”
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