Cale Makar barely broke a smile after scoring his second goal and Colorado’s seventh of the night. He punched Mikko Rantanen thanking him for the pass and skated to the bench.
Emerging by far as the better team, the Avalanche defeated the Tampa Bay Lightning 7-0 in Game 2 of the Stanley Cup Finals on Saturday night to take a 2-0 lead in the best-of-seven series.
Coach Jared Bednar called it “the game as close to perfection as you can get from your players”.
“I feel like we played our identity to a ‘T’ tonight,” Makar said. “We had some good goals and stuff like that. … It was a bit weird tonight. Obviously we have chances but the guys were able to capitalize so it’s a good game.”
WATCH | Nichushkin and Avalanche make a statement in Lightning rout:
Valeri Nichushkin scored his seventh and eighth goals of the playoffs and continued to be the best player on the ice in the final, Game 1 overtime hero Andre Burakovsky beat Andrei Vasilevskiy again and even defensive back Josh Manson and 35-year-old grinder Darren Helm had fun with a goal apiece. Makar, who didn’t even manage a shot on goal in the opener, scored twice in the third period, prompting chants of “We want the Cup!” of an inflamed crowd.
“They’re playing at an elite level right now – give them credit. We’re not,” Lightning coach Jon Cooper said. “They are two good teams. They are just playing at a much higher level than us at the moment.”
Rarely have the Lightning been completely outclassed during this run of playoff success, but neither had they faced an opponent like the Avalanche, who forced them into one unusual mistake after another. Colorado was dominant in all facets of the game to pull away from two wins its first title since 2001 and the first of this core team led by Nathan MacKinnon.
The Avalanche travel to Tampa for Game 3 on Monday night in the series despite a lack of goals in the series from MacKinnon, who at times played like a possessed man in an effort to finally break through and hoist the Cup. They still became the third team in NHL history to score more than three goals in the first period of Games 1 and 2 of the Finals.
The dominating performance began by bouncing off an early error from typically dependable Lightning defenseman Erik Cernak when he tossed the puck to the blue line in one of the game’s first shifts. It was all Avalanche after that.
Their aggressive forecheck led them to shoot a penalty on veteran Ryan McDonagh, scoring on the ensuing power play when Burakovsky fed Nichushkin for his first of the night. It wasn’t his last, and Colorado went on with six of the game’s first seven shots and complete territorial dominance with much of the game played on the Tampa Bay side.
With Vasilevskiy – whose game was key to the Lightning’s incredible ability to bounce back from a playoff loss – looking shaky and even hanging his head after letting Makar beat him cleanly on one of many two-on-one runs , the Avalanche made the most of all their offensive zone time. The team with the highest score this post-season held a clinic against the team that has played the most hockey of anyone in the past two years.
It can ultimately take its toll, and it’s exacerbated by the blistering speed the Avalanche are playing with. Again, they not only passed the Lightning, but used quick feet to force mistakes that turned into goals.
“We scored a goal,” said forward Andew Cogliano, who returned after missing the opener with a right finger injury. “We got to our game, we skated from the puck launch and we just didn’t let go.”
Tampa Bay fell to 18-2 after a loss since the start of the first round in 2020. The 18-game streak ended in the Eastern Conference Finals against the New York Rangers when the Lightning took a trailing 2-0 before coming back strong, though it’s hard to see Colorado falling into the same trap.
How the Lightning lost this one — by far their biggest loss this run — surprised just about everyone.
Even if the players discard the concept of game-to-game momentum during a playoff series, their antics against the champions combined with a 7-0 road record should fill the Avalanche with confidence. But they might need to tap into their deep pool again due to injuries.
After picking up Andrew Cogliano after missing the season opener with a right finger injury, the Avalanche again lost Burakovsky in the second period. Burakovsky blocked a shot in Game 1 of the Western Finals and has been playing in pain ever since. Bednar said he will be re-evaluated before Game 2.
Colorado is inflicting a lot of pain on Tampa Bay, which resorted to some tough stuff after falling behind. Of course, even MacKinnon threw hits in the third period despite the game being well in hand.
Darcy Kuemper was barely tested in goal for Colorado, earning the shutout with 17 saves.
“He was just rock solid,” Manson said. “He was exactly what we needed to be.”