DENVER – The Colorado Avalanche beat Tampa Bay Lightning 7-0 in Game 2 of the Stanley Cup final on Saturday to take a leading 2-0 league lead over the two-time defending cup champions.
It was such an achievement that even Avalanche coach Jared Bednar had no real notes on how to improve.
“It was absolutely as near perfect of a game as you can get from your players,” said Bednar. “We came out of game 1 we were dangerous offensively, but I thought it was a new step for our group. We evaluated it, we showed them some things and they did a good job. And on the defensive side we were much better in “It was not even close. I thought we made some big mistakes that led to goals against in game 1. We got better in those areas, among other things.”
It is no small achievement to score seven goals on a world net player like Andrei Vasilevskiy either. But Colorado had his number from the start.
Valeri Nichushkin caused the avalanche to roll early in the first period with a power-play goal, and then Josh Manson followed up with a one-off past Vasilevskiy of the sprint. Andre Burakovsky led Colorado 3-0 after the first 20 minutes. Shot attempts favored Colorado 24-10.
In the second, it was Nichushkin who again increased Colorado’s lead, followed by a fantastic individual effort by Darren Helm to 5-0.
Less than three minutes into the third period, Cale Makar added a concise goal to the box. He added a new one on power play to make it 7-0, and became only the fourth player in NHL history to score shorthanded and on the man’s advantage in a cup final match. The others were Gordie Howe, Glen Wesley and Trevor Linden.
That kind of result would be impressive against any goalkeeper, let alone a Vezina Trophy winner like Vasilevskiy. Bednar tried to keep the performance in perspective with Colorado’s general game.
“The number of goals, I’m not that excited [about]. I just think it’s about the way we played, “he said.” Some days we shoot better than others and we play like we did tonight and we do not get seven. Things have to go right. He is such a good keeper that you have to put volume on him. Tonight we shot very well, we created a lot of chances and our guys buried the chances we got. The guys felt it tonight. “
And how. Colorado has consistently preached the importance of not letting the Tampa Bay pedigree influence the approach. In game 2, Avalanche won all the matches, was better on special teams (2-for-4 with extra man, compared to Lynet’s 0-for-3) and got a strong performance from goalkeeper Darcy Kuemper in a 16-yard suspension.
These were the fewest shots Tampa Bay has generated in a playoff game this year. Not entirely surprising, considering how little possession time – around 28% – Lightning was able to seize on Colorado’s suffocating attacks to which they had no answer.
“[We are] hungry on the defensive side of things, trying to win as many races as we can, as many fights as we can, get over pucks and make it difficult, “said Bednar.” It’s part of our identity and who we are. Our guys have been doing it all year, and they keep doing it. Tonight they did better than we usually do. “
As good as Game 2 was, Colorado is aware that there was only one win.
“I feel like we played for our identity to a ‘T’ tonight,” said Makar. “Of course we had some good goals. But at the end of the day we know that the next game will bring its best. It is always the next game that is most difficult. It was a bit strange tonight. We get opportunities, but the guys were able to exploit, so that’s a good deal. “
Avalanche suffered a setback on Saturday, when Burakovsky left the match midway through with an injury. Bednar had no update on his status afterwards, and said he still had to be evaluated. Burakovsky recently missed time in the Western Conference final with a leg ailment, but had been an important piece since his return, even scoring the overtime winner in Game 1.
Fortunately for Colorado, it lacks no depth. And Avalanche will need everyone on board when the series shifts to Tampa. Lightning also followed its Eastern Conference Finals series against New York 2-0, then went home to win a pair and eventually topped the Rangers in four straight to reach a third cup final in a row.
Everyone knows it’s not over until it’s over. Bednar said he is confident his team will not get ahead of themselves.
“It should be easy for us [going to Tampa]”he said.” We do not take into account the noise outside the wardrobe, and we do not notice it when [things being said] are good. Our team seems to be very focused, dialed and they are hungry and want to win, so they play as hard as they can to reach it [goal]. “