The Colorado Avalanche, looking like a far better team against the defending champions, defeated the Tampa Bay Lightning 7-0 in Game 2 of the Stanley Cup Finals Saturday night and went 2-0 in the best-of-seven series in the lead.
Valeri Nichushkin scored his seventh and eighth goals in the playoffs and continued to be the best player on the ice in the finals. Game 1 overtime hero Andre Burakovsky once again beat Andrei Vasilevskiy and even got in the fun at defensive end Josh Manson and 35-year-old grinder Darren Helm by a goal apiece. Playoff MVP leader Cale Makar scored twice in the third period and shouted “We want the trophy!” from a heated crowd.
“They are playing at an elite level right now – give them credit. We don’t,” said Lightning coach Jon Cooper. “They’re two good teams. They’re just playing at a much higher level than us at the moment.”
The Avalanche head to Tampa for Game 3 on Monday night’s series, despite MacKinnon not scoring in the series. 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 of the Finals.
“We played a pretty good game,” said Helm. “We just played a full 60-minute game.”
CLOCK | Nichushkin, Avalanche make a statement in Flight of the Flash:
The dominant performance began with him catching an early error from typically reliable Lightning defender Erik Cernak when he bounced the puck at the blue line in one of the early shifts of the game. After that it was all avalanche.
Their aggressive forecheck saw them draw a penalty on veteran Ryan McDonagh and score on the ensuing power play when Burakovsky served Nichushkin for the first time of the night. It wasn’t his last, and Colorado poured it out with six of the game’s first seven shots and complete territorial dominance with much of the game ending Tampa Bay.
“We came out with a goal,” said forward Andew Cogliano, who returned after missing Game 1 with a right finger injury. “We got into our game, we ran from the drop of the puck and we just didn’t let up.”
With Vasilevskiy – whose play was key to the Lightning’s incredible ability to bounce back from a playoff loss – he looked shaky and even dropped his head after beating Makar in one of many two-for-ones -Let rushes be hit cleanly, the Avalanche mostly made their offensive zone time. The team with the most goals this postseason held a trial against the team that has played more hockey than anyone else in the last two years.
That could take its toll, and it’s made worse by the frenetic pace at which the Avalanche are playing. Not only did they once again pass the Lightning, but with fast feet they forced mistakes that resulted in goals.
“Am I shocked we lost 7-zip?” said Lightning Capt. Steven Stamkos. “I mean, I don’t think we saw that coming.”
Even if players shrug off the concept of game-to-game momentum during a playoff series, their rampage at the champions combined with a 7-0 record should fill the Avalanche with confidence. But injuries may require them to re-dip into their pool of depths.
After retrieving Andrew Cogliano after missing the season opener with a right finger injury, the Avalanche Burakovsky lost again in the second period. Burakovsky blocked a shot in the first game in the West Finals and has been playing in pain ever since. Coach Jared Bednar said he would be re-evaluated ahead of Game 2.
Colorado is inflicting a lot of pain on Tampa Bay, who resorted to some hard stuff after going behind. Of course, MacKinnon also threw goals in the third period, although the game was in good control.
Barely tested at net for Colorado, Darcy Kuemper earned the shutout with 17 saves.
“He was just rock solid,” Manson said. “He was exactly what we needed to be.”