Stanley Cup Finals are always tough and generally heartbreaking.
The Avalanche experienced this cauldron of emotions on Friday evening in the Ball Arena. With a win from their first championship in 21 years, the Avalanche failed to defeat the two-time defending champion Tampa Bay Lightning and fell 3-2 in Game 5. The Avs lead the series 3-2 and return to Tampa Bay for Game 6 on Sunday.
Blitz winger Ondrej Palat scored the winning goal with 6:22 to go.
What a missed opportunity for the Avs, who recovered twice from a goal deficit 48 hours earlier and won in overtime on center Nazem Kadri’s goal.
The fans were ready to celebrate like they did in 2001 when the Avs beat New Jersey in the seventh game. But like the Lightning over the past two years, the Avalanche failed to win the trophy on their first opportunity. Tampa Bay lost Game 5 to Dallas two years ago but won Game 6. Last year in Montreal the Lightning lost Game 4 but won Game 5.
The Avalanche’s task is much more difficult – it must return to Tampa Bay. Yes, the Avs are going 8-1 in the playoffs, but this is the Lightning they’re up against, the two-time champion Lightning, the Andrei Vasilevskiy in goal Lightning, the already two-series collected -Lightning this postseason.
The Avalanche, who never led, fell 7-3 at home in the playoffs and were denied a chance to go 16-3 in the postseason, which would have been the best record by a Cup winner since Edmonton went 16-2 in 1988 went .
Tampa Bay scored goals from defenseman Jan Rutta (15:23 in the first period) and winger Nikita Kucherov (8:10 in the second) who wedged a goal from Avs’ Valeri Nichushkin (5:07 in the second). The Avs equalized at 17:29 in front of defender Cale Makar’s goal.
Palat’s winner got past the Lightning after a skillful stretch of perimeter.
The Avs’ chances were cut short when they were called out with 2:38 too many men on the ice, putting Tampa Bay on the power play for two minutes.
As the building went into overdrive, they chanted, “We want the trophy!” and “Let’s go Avs!” There was little reason to celebrate in the first half.
The Avalanche continued to expert penalties as Tampa Bay’s two chances in the opening period were unsuccessful.
Center Nathan MacKinnon drew a penalty on Lightning’s Steven Stamkos to give the Avs their first chance for man advantage, but the Avs only managed two shots.
In the second game in a row, Tampa Bay netted the first, and like the last goal Darcy Kuemper allowed in Game 4, it was a shot he should have stopped. Rutta, who scored twice in 47 career playoff games, slid down the wing and his slapshot sneaked through the gap between Kuemper’s body and glove-hand for a 1-0 lead.
The Avalanche’s greatest chance of the first half came when defender Devon Toews led Nathan MacKinnon to a breakaway who was stopped by Vasilevskiy on a shot from a bad angle.
The Avalanche followed suit by benefiting from a suspicious icing call on the Lightning. MacKinnon regained the tie against Makar, whose shot was awkwardly saved by Vasilevskiy, but Nichushkin, with inside position on Nick Paul, was right on the edge of the crease to return the rebound for his ninth goal of the postseason.
It wasn’t tied for long.
Makar, already running 4-on-4, was booed for a stumble penalty below his goal line, and the battered Lightning power play finally conceded after Kucherov’s slap shot from center at 8:10 of the second. Prior to that goal, the Lightning were 1 of 17 on the series power play.
The Avs returned to the power play when winger Logan O’Connor pulled a high penalty on Ross Colton. Makar missed the point wide, MacKinnon’s slapshot was blocked, Makar was stopped after dividing the Tampa Bay defense, Makar’s shot was deflected by Stamkos, another MacKinnon slapshot was saved and Kadri was flipped off the right circle.
The Lightning led 2-1 in their second straight game into the third period, but that lead was short-lived.
Makar’s shot was saved by Vasilevskiy, but the rebound was deflected by defender Erik Cernak’s skate and sent through Vasilevskiy’s legs. The Avs are happy to accept great luck.
From then on the atmosphere was electric – thankfully the players could at least hear the officials whistling. It was that loud. That was so nerve wracking. It was so exciting.
Tampa Bay improved to 3-0 in elimination games this postseason. The Lightning won games 6-7 against Toronto in the first round. It fell 2-0 behind Rangers but won in six.
https://www.greeleytribune.com/2022/06/24/tampa-bay-tops-avs-stanley-cup-game-5/ Lightning top Avalanche, 3-2 to send Stanley Cup Finals back to Tampa Bay – Greeley Tribune