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Avs take 1-0 series lead in thrilling open to Stanley Cup Final

Jesse Montano Avatar
June 16, 2022

The first one is done, and what a game it was. 

The Colorado Avalanche and the Tampa Bay Lightning opened the Stanley Cup Final tonight and Game 1 lived up to the hype. This has been billed as one of the best Cup Final matchups the NHL has seen in a long, long time. Tonight was a fantastic game from opening puck drop to the final buzzer, let’s get into it. 

Let’s start with just a couple of observations from tonight, and we’ll work from the crease out. I really didn’t like the third goal that Avalanche goaltender Darcy Kuemper gave up, when I saw it in real-time I thought maybe it had been deflected, just given the way he reacted. It was not, that’s not a great goal. On the other side of the ice though, Andre Vasilevsky probably has two there that he would like back. So neither guy was perfect, and it came down to “who is going to give up the next (last) one?”

Kuemper stood tall, didn’t seem to get rattled by the bad goal, and he made every save the Avalanche needed him to make. You don’t get many freebies against a goalie of Vasilevsky’s caliber, so good on Colorado for taking advantage. 

On defense, I didn’t think this was the best night we’ve seen from Colorado’s D-corps. Don’t get me wrong, I certainly don’t think they were bad, but we’ve seen in these playoffs that they have another gear, and I expect them to get there during this series. It seemed to me like Tampa was able to limit some (not all) of those looks from the Avs’ blue line, which is such a key piece to Colorado’s offense. I’m looking forward to what type of adjustments we see both teams make. 

Up front, one of the biggest stories of this game for me was Colorado’s forecheck, or more specifically, Val Nichushkin’s forecheck. The Lightning simply could not handle it. The Avalanche play with such speed and ferociousness on the puck, that if opposing players aren’t getting the puck off of your stick almost immediately, they will eat you alive. The Lightning really seemed to struggle with the speed in this game. 

Alright, let’s dig into the details of what happened at Ball Arena tonight. 

The game started with quite a bit of nervous energy from both teams. I don’t care how many times you’ve been to the Final, those first few shifts have to shake you a little bit. You’re playing on hockey’s biggest stage, it’s something every kid who picks up a hockey stick dreams of and I’m sure it takes a shift or two to start feeling your legs again. 

It was sloppy for the first 5ish minutes. Lots of missed passes, guys over-skating pucks, or literally just falling down. Definitely seemed like players on both sides were having to settle in a bit. 

As the teams finally did start to settle down, Gabe Landeskog gave his team the boost they needed to really find their game. 

Just shy of the eight-minute mark in the opening period, Bowen Byram carried the puck into the zone and chipped it over to Mikko Rantanen. Rantanen snapped a shot short side that leaked through Vasilevsky and fell in behind him. Landeskog drove hard to the crease and punched the puck over the goal line. The Avalanche were off and running, in the Stanley Cup Final. 

The building exploded. 20+ years of anticipation and build-up erupted from the crowd, and you could tell it really gassed up the Avalanche as they started to press. 

Their legs were moving, and this was the first point in the game where you saw the Lightning were struggling to contain the high-flying Avalanche offense. 

Less than two minutes after Landeskog put the wheels in motion, Val Nichushkin put on one of the best shifts I’ve seen all season. 

He was relentless on the puck. I swear, for one second I’m pretty sure I saw him in three different places on the ice at once. He simply would not let Tampa Bay exit the zone. Give credit to the four other Avs on the ice, they played a huge role in keeping the play alive as well, But Val set it all in motion. 

Which is why it only made sense that he was the one to score the goal that came as a result of the hard work he put in. 

I’m a firm believer that you earn your own luck. Or in the case of a hockey game, you earn your bounces. Val Nichsuhkin earned his bounce. He slipped a shot five-hole, and Vasilievsky got most of it, but it found the back of the net. He was amazing on the forecheck and just purely out-hustled everyone on the ice. 

The Avs had a two-goal lead, and the building was rocking. Then one of the weirder sequences we’ve seen this postseason occurred and took the air out of the arena a bit. 

Victor Hedman flipped the puck high and into the Avalanche zone, an innocent enough looking play. Then suddenly Erik Johnson looked really turned around as the puck bounced near him and Lightning forward Nick Paul, and in the blink of an eye the puck was in behind Johnson and Paul had a mini-breakaway. 

The puck continued to bounce all over the place as Paul tried to make a move to his backhand. He wasn’t able to pull it from forehand to backhand because the puck was bouncing and spinning all like crazy, and that seemed to throw Darcy Kuemper.

Paul was able to get just enough of it to slip it into the net. A weird play and a weird goal. 

Credit to the Avalanche, the crowd seemed to deflate a bit, but they didn’t. 

They pushed back the way we’ve seen all season and were able to draw a penalty in the late stages of the first. While on the power play, the Avalanche got a gift.

An obstructed view for the referee led him to think that Cale Makar had been tripped while trying to escape the oncoming Anthony Cirelli. When you look at the replay, you can see *why* the ref thought that was the case, but it’s pretty clear that Cirelli did not pull Makar down. The call was the call though, and it meant the Avs were headed to a 5-on-3 power play.

The Lightning were upset, rightfully so. It’s a fast game and I’m being serious when I say that I can totally see why the official thought it was a penalty. You know it will come back around, it always does in hockey, but like we said at the beginning of this piece, you don’t get many gifts like that in the Stanley Cup Final, so you have to take advantage of them when you get them. 

That’s exactly what the Avalanche did when Mikko Rantanen found Artturi Lehkonen back door for an easy tap-in. Well, it was an easy tap-in because the pass from Rantanen was absolutely ridiculous. Talk about threading the needle. I’m still not fully sure how he got that puck through. 

3-1 heading into the first intermission, and it felt like the Avs were in control. 

As good as things felt during that first intermission, you knew who was on the other side. This is the back-to-back champion and there’s a reason for that. 

I didn’t really feel like Tampa took over in the second, but they definitely pushed back. Colorado had to adjust their play style and was able to play them straight-up for the first half of the middle frame. 

Then we got a reminder of just how skilled Nikita Kucherov is. He made a fantastic inside-outside move on Devon Toews before throwing the puck right onto the tape of Ondrej Palat for a backdoor dunk. 

That really seemed to give the Lightning a boost, and they were able to turn up the pressure. Less than minute later, Mikhail Sergachev scored on a shot from the point to even things up. This was the goal I talked about off the top that I really didn’t love for Kuemper. 

After that goal, the game really became fun to watch. It was two heavy weight teams trading blows, but not in the same way people talked about Colorado trading punches with the Edmonton Oilers. 

No, this was just great systematic hockey from both sides. Neither team making the mistake that would give the game away, but I will say it felt like Colorado got back in the driver’s seat as regulation ticked down. 

With less than two minutes remaining in the third period, Tampa Bay’s Pat Maroon flipped the puck over the glass and into the stands. The Avs were headed to the power play with just south of 90 seconds to go. 

A couple of decent looks for Colorado, but ultimately they weren’t able to cash in before the horn sounded. We were off to overtime. It was tense inside Ball Arena, there was still a buzz in the air, but you could tell folks were on edge. 

The extra frame started with the Avs on the man-advantage for a little more than half of a minute, but they could do anything with it. 

For those of you who have been reading along with me all season, you know how much I have talked about how you simply cannot make a mistake against the Avalanche, they will make you pay almost every time. 

Less than a minute after Tampa Bay survived the penalty and got a decent rush of their own from Maroon, freshly out of the box, Sergachev made the smallest of errors, and Colorado jumped all over it. 

Sergachev flipped a puck ever so casually into the neutral zone, not really to anyone in particular.  JT Compher snagged it out of the air and was going right back up ice, and the Avs had numbers. 

Compher threw a shot on that was blocked, the rebound came right back out to Nichushkin, who made a brilliant pass to a wide-open Andre Burakovsky in the slot. Nichushkin’s patience to not just snap the puck on net completely pulled Vasilevsky out of position, and Burakovsky had basically the whole net to shoot at. 

It was a great heads-up play by Nichushkin to make that play against the grain, and Burakovsky made sure he wasn’t going to let it go to waste. He hit the dead center of the net. Game over. 

It was a great moment for Burakovsky, who has had a tough postseason with a fluctuating role to go along with health issues. 

It was an unbelievable night at Ball Arena. The crowd was ready, and more importantly, the team was ready. 

The first one is over and done with, now you can just settle in and play hockey, but it’s only going to get harder from here. If you’re the Avalanche, you have to be really happy with the way you played, given the circumstances of the moment. With that said, they are going to have to continually find a new gear every time they step on the ice, let’s see if they can do it. 

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