TAMPA, Fla. – Friday night can’t come soon enough, Avalanche fans.
Bring your homemade trophies and plates, wear your favorite player’s jersey and wave your provided pom-poms as your team is 60 minutes away from their first Stanley Cup in 21 years.
And they’ll need all the energy Ball Arena can contain to help them reach the NHL mountaintop and defeat the two-time defending champion Tampa Bay Lightning.
Pity in the first period and trailing in the third period on Wednesday night, the Avalanche pulled out a 3-2 Game 4 overtime win in front of a stunned Lightning mob. Nazem Kadri scored the winner at 12:02 PM of an extra session dominated by the Avs.
History shows what kind of control the Avalanche has – teams that score 3-1 in the best-of-seven era have won 90.6% of the series.
The first premium chances of extra time were all due to the Avalanche in the opening nine minutes – a re-directed Devon Toews slack shot hit the post, a Logan O’Connor stopped the break and a Bo Byram shot off the crossbar. In the opening 10 minutes, the Avs defeated Tampa Bay 8-3 (excluding the two posts) and were rewarded when Kadri topped off in his first action since being injured in Game 3 of the Edmonton series.
The Avalanche rallied from one goal behind twice, on Nathan MacKinnon’s power-play marker on his skate in the second and Andrew Cogliano after Nico Sturm’s shot went off his shin guard in the third. Translation: Lightning goalkeeper Andrei Vasilevskiy, completely removed from giving up seven goals in last week’s Game 2, was back in his game, stopping everything that wasn’t diverted.
The start of the Avalanche was a debacle.
Thirty-six seconds into the game, the Lightning scored when Erik Cernak’s explosion was stopped by Darcy Kuemper, but Kuemper’s mask was detached and eventually fell to the ice when Anthony Cirelli’s blowback from the top of the fold landed in the net. There was no whistle after Kuemper lost his headgear due to the scoring opportunity.
The first period was a difficult period for the usually fast skating and a lot of shooting Avalanche. The Lightning defenses stepped up their activity by several steps, moving to pass and firing ranges (12 blocked shots) to prevent the Avs from gaining any momentum in the attack zone.
The Avs had one shot in the first 10 minutes.
The Avs had two shots in the first 16 minutes.
The Avs had three shots in the first 18 minutes.
And the Avs had four shots in the first period (two shorthanded).
Kuemper was not the problem. His stops included Nick Paul in a breakaway. Nathan MacKinnon? A non factor. Kadri? Clearly limited early in his first game in 18 days. The overall atmosphere? Rolling.
The Lightning played with the kind of surrender needed when he was in a series. Cernak was hindered on a penalty kill after blocking a shot. Cirellli ran to the locker room after being injured along the end boards. And Steven Stamkos explained to block a shot in the third period and was slow to get up. All returned to the game.
The Avs, meanwhile, awoke from their slumber in the second period… for a moment.
De Avalanche scored the equalizer when his red-hot power play cashed Victor Hedman’s interference penalty. Mikko Rantanen’s shot from the left circle was blocked by Vasilevskiy, but bounced off MacKinnon’s skate and Vasilevskiy’s skate back into the net. It was MacKinnon’s first goal of the series.
The Lightning re-took the lead at 10:42 of the second. Hedman dragged it into the Avs zone, batted around a Valeri Nichushkin and scored on the backhander from the left faceoff spot. No apologies to Kuemper – that was as soft as the outrageous Amalie Arena ice cream. As much as he rewarded Coach Jared Bednar’s trust by getting Game 4 call-up after being on the bench in Game 3, Kuemper didn’t pay it for that game.
Just take it from the scorer’s reaction. Hedman’s smile as he was harassed by his teammates suggested he wondered, ‘Did that go in there? Really? What about my Cale Makar imitation?” It was only Hedman’s 22nd goal in 153 playoff games in his career and enabled Tampa Bay to take the lead going into the third period.
Trailing 2-1 in the third period, the Avalanche tied the score at 17:07 after a series of lucky bounces, deflections or caroms – whatever adjective applies. Sturm’s rebound shot went through Cogliano into the net.
The Lightning defeated the Avalanche 36-27 in regulation.
The Game 4 extra time made this series its sixth in the past 11 years with at least two overtimes. In Avs’ first two final appearances (1996 and 2001), they played just one overtime game: Uwe Krupp’s goal in the 1996 Cup over Florida.