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Avalanche mistakes prove costly in Game 3 loss to Lightning

Jesse Montano Avatar
June 21, 2022

Hockey is a game of inches, and I thought Game 3 of the Stanley Cup Final exemplified that. 

The series shifted to the home of the Tampa Bay Lightning, with the Colorado Avalanche looking to take a stranglehold on the series after winning the first two games of the Final. 

It was an eventful start to the game, and the home crowd was engaged, and easily the loudest any opposing crowd has been when the Avs have gotten out on the road this postseason.

I thought the Lightning came fast, and like they were trying to establish a tone early. Really, the only thing that could have made it better for them is if they would have scored a goal. They didn’t, and Val Nichushkin did… kind of. 

Exactly five minutes into the opening frame, Nathan MacKinnon hit Nichsuhkin with a cross-ice pass and he got enough on it to beat Tampa goaltender Andre Vasilevsky. It looked like a 1-0 lead for the visitor. 

What happened next, I don’t have a problem with the outcome… but the process is a big problem in the NHL. 

Lightning coach Jon Cooper waved the officials over to let them know he was considering challenging the play for offside. After initially coming to the conclusion that he wasn’t going to have the officials take a second look at it, the teams got lineup up for the ensuing face-off. Suddenly, right before the puck was dropped, the Lightning bench erupted in yelling and banging their sticks on the boards. 

The ref skated back over to the bench, and Cooper had changed his mind. Now he wanted to challenge. In no way should that be allowed. 

The review that followed took several minutes for the linesmen to make a determination. It took so long that players from both sides came off the bench and were skating laps just to keep their legs warm. 

The goal was eventually called back, and we were back to a 0-0 hockey game. Look, you want to get the call correct, especially in the Stanley Cup Final, but the process is broken. I won’t spend anymore time harping on this as it wasn’t the story of the game, but it played a big role in how the game played out early on.

The goal coming off the board was a huge boost for the Lightning, but the Avalanche didn’t seem pressed. Less than five minutes after the disallowed Nichushkin goal, Gabe Landeskog was able to punch one in that had gotten in behind Andrei Vasilevsky. The Avs were off and running, and looked like they had started to settle into the game. 

Here’s one thing that a lot of people (on Twitter at least) seem to have forgotten… this is the Stanley Cup Final, and the Avalanche are playing against the two-time defending champs. This was never going to be easy, and Tampa Bay was never going to just lay down and let the Avalanche run away with it.

As Josh Manson put it after the game, “that’s why they’ve won two championships.”

We finally saw the Lightning stand up and try to force their style of play onto the Avs, and while I don’t think they “took over”, this was easily the most comfortable Tampa has looked in a game. 

About three minutes after Landeskog got things going, Anthony Cirelli took a pass off his skates and skated down the wall and towards the net. He tried to make a move to his backhand but fumbled the puck a bit and it became something of a changeup. It completely fooled Darcy Kuemper and slipped by him five-hole. 

I mentioned at the beginning of this that hockey is a game of inches, and this was really the first time in the game that it showed. Just before Cirelli scored to tie things up, JT Compher had a puck land somewhat awkwardly on his backhand in front of a mostly open net, and he just couldn’t get a handle on it. He was able to chip a shot on, but Vasilevsky made an outstanding save by stretching out his full 6’5” frame to get a toe on it to keep his team within a goal. 

So a huge save at one end, and a flukey goal at the other. That’s just how it goes sometimes. 

Before the period was done, a beautiful tic-tac-toe passing play from the Lightning ended with an Ondrej Palat backdoor goal.

It was a pretty even period on the ice, both teams got their looks, the difference was the huge save that Tampa got. 

Then the wheels can off for Colorado. 

Ok, that may be a little harsh, given the way the play on the ice looked, but the second period just didn’t go well. 

Nick Paul scored less than 90 seconds into the middle frame to extend the lead to 3-1, and that right there is a steep hill to climb with Andre Vasilevsky in net. 

The Avs were able to respond, with another Landeskog power play goal, and you thought that maybe that would be enough to spark the comeback, given what we’ve seen from this group during these playoffs.

They just never shifted gears. That’s the best way I can describe it. I really didn’t think they were “bad”. Honestly. I just felt like they looked… off. The execution just wasn’t there. Even Kuemper, I didn’t think his night was awful, it just wasn’t good enough. 

It took the Lightning almost seven minutes exactly to score three goals and put this game out of reach, and if you are really looking for a reason to pile on Kuemper tonight, it was the third goal during that stretch. 

Pat Maroon walked, heavily contested, off the wall and kind of floated a shot towards the net from in tight. Kuemper over-committed causing the puck to roll up his arm and into the top of the net. 

That was it for Darcy, and even though we still had a period to go, that was it for the game. 

Pavel Francouz gave up one more in the third on a Tampa power play to land us at the 6-2 final score, but it really didn’t matter.

This is a series between two of the best teams this league has seen in over a decade, you knew they were going to exchange blows, and tonight we saw the Lightning finally land one, after getting pummeled in Colorado. 

What has been so interesting about this series is how these two teams handle themselves off the ice, and in these big moments. In the same way that Tampa Bay seemed composed after falling behind in Denver, the players and coaches from the Avs’ side seemed calm, cool, and collected after the game. 

They all acknowledged that this series was going to be their most difficult task yet, that they were playing a team trying to establish themselves as a dynasty and wouldn’t be getting any free passes. 

They say momentum doesn’t transfer from one game to the next in the playoffs, and that it really doesn’t matter if you lose by 1, by 5 or by 10, all that matters is the next game. Hell, the Lightning proved that tonight. 

Colorado now holds a slim 2-1 series lead and will have to try and bounce back on the road inside what will almost certainly be an incredibly hostile environment. 

This Final is heating up.

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