News

TRAIKOS: End of a dynasty as Colorado defeats Tampa Bay to win Stanley Cup


Article content

TAMPA — A dynasty is done.

Advertisement 2

Article content

A legacy has just begun.

The Colorado Avalanche are the new kings of the mountain, having defeated the Tampa Bay Lightning 2-1 in Game 6 of the Stanley Cup final.

It was their first championship since 2001. And it came against one of the best teams of the modern era.

With the victory, Tampa Bay’s bid at a three-peat is over. Blame fatigue or the battle of attrition if you want. But Colorado, which lost just four times in these playoffs, deserves a ton of praise for what it has accomplished. The Avalanche swept the Nashville Predators in the first round, defeated the St. Louis Blues 4-2 in the second round and swept the Edmonton Oilers in the Western Conference final.

Article content

By the time they reached the final round, they were simply too fast, too structured, and far too hungry for the Lightning to handle. 

Advertisement 3

Article content

“It’s playoffs, it’s Stanley Cup finals,” Avalanche head coach Jared Bednar had said prior to Game 6. “I think your team’s always playing with a certain level of desperation.”

After blowing a chance at winning the Cup on home ice in Game 5, Colorado made sure it wasn’t going to choke again. Led by Nathan MacKinnon, who had a goal and an assist, and a bounce-back performance from goaltender Darcy Kuemper, who stopped 22 of 23 shots, the Avalanche overcame a 1-0 deficit and never looked back.

Cale Makar, who finished third in playoff scoring with 10 goals and 31 points — behind Edmonton’s Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl — was the team’s MVP. It was an easy choice. The Avalanche defenceman, who also won the Norris Trophy this year, had his coming out party in this post-season.

Advertisement 4

Article content

It wasn’t just the goals. Or the points. Every time he was on the ice, he was a threat — and a treat to watch. The fact that he is only 23 years old might mean that this is not the last time we see Colorado at this stage.

For Tampa Bay, who came just short of yet another comeback bid, it was an end to a helluva run.

“I do have to marvel at what’s gone on and how many times you can be kicked and get back off the mat,” said head coach Jon Cooper. “It’s not always the game situations. It’s the injuries and the blocked shots and the gamesmanship and all those things that kind of just needle you to go away … and that’s why I think teams don’t keep repeating, because it’s easy to walk away. 

“These guys won’t do it, and it’s something to marvel.”

From the opening face-off, Tampa Bay was the more desperate team. Meanwhile, Colorado looked like nerves were once again getting the best of them.

Advertisement 5

Article content

That could explain why Makar took a penalty and coughed up the puck in the first four minutes of the game. With the ice tilted in the Tampa Bay’s favour, Steven Stamkos gave the Lightning a 1-0 lead, courtesy of some strong forechecking from Nikita Kurcherov, who caused Makar to turn over the puck in front of the net. It was Stamkos’ 10th goal of the playoffs. And it once again meant Colorado was chasing the game.

Not that it mattered much.

After failing to beat Andrei Vasilevskiy in the first period, the Avalanche came out attacking in the second and were finally rewarded for their efforts.

MacKinnon, who had been snake-bitten for most of the final, scored his playoff-leading 13th goal on a one-timer at 1:54 the opening minutes that beat Vasilevskiy on the blocker side. About 10 minutes later, it was MacKinnon again, this time setting up Artturi Lehkonen on an odd-man rush to give Colorado a 2-1 lead.

Advertisement 6

Article content

Somewhat surprisingly, it was the Avalanche’s first time playing with the lead since the first period of Game 3 of the final.

The lead change appeared to give new life to Colorado, while at the same time sucking the life out of the Lightning, who didn’t have a shot on net through the first 11 minutes of the third period.

Even when they did have shots, Kuemper swallowed them up — or Gabriel Landeskog blocked them with his skate, breaking his blade in the process. It was the 32-year-old veteran’s best game of the final. And for Kuemper, it was a long time coming.

You could say the same thing about the rest of the Avalanche, who after years of early exits and unmet expectations finally delivered.

mtraikos@postmedia.com

twitter.com/Michael_Traikos

Advertisement 1

Comments

Postmedia is committed to maintaining a lively but civil forum for discussion and encourage all readers to share their views on our articles. Comments may take up to an hour for moderation before appearing on the site. We ask you to keep your comments relevant and respectful. We have enabled email notifications—you will now receive an email if you receive a reply to your comment, there is an update to a comment thread you follow or if a user you follow comments. Visit our Community Guidelines for more information and details on how to adjust your email settings.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.