DENVER — The Colorado Avalanche defeated the Tampa Bay Lightning 7-0 in Game 2 of the Stanley Cup Finals Saturday to give the two-time champions a comfortable 2-0 lead.
It was such a fine performance that even Avalanche coach Jared Bednar had no real pointers on how to improve.
“It was certainly a near-perfect game, as you can only expect from your players,” said Bednar. “Coming out of Game 1 we were dangerous offensively but I thought there was another step for our group. We evaluated that, we showed them some things and they did a good job. And on the defensive side we were much better tonight. It wasn’t even close. I thought we made some big mistakes that resulted in goals being conceded in Game 1. We’ve gotten better in those areas, among other things.”
It’s also no small feat to score seven goals against a world-renowned goalkeeper like Andrei Vasilevskiy. But Colorado had its number from the start.
Valeri Nichushkin got the Avalanche rolling early in the first half with a power play goal, and then Josh Manson followed up with a one-timer past Vasilevskiy. Andre Burakovsky led Colorado 3-0 after the first 20 minutes. Shot attempts favored Colorado 24-10.
In the second, it was Nichushkin who extended Colorado’s lead again, followed by a terrific individual effort from Darren Helm to make it 5-0.
Less than three minutes into the third period, Cale Makar added a goal from a man down to add to the loss. He added another on the power play to make it 7-0, becoming only the fourth player in NHL history to score from a man-advantage position in a cup final game. The others were Gordie Howe, Glen Wesley and Trevor Linden.
That kind of performance would be impressive against any goalie, let alone a Vezina Trophy winner like Vasilevskiy. Bednar tried to keep the performance related to Colorado’s overall game.
“The number of goals, I’m not too excited [about]. I think it’s just the way we played,” he said. “Some days we shoot better than others and we play like tonight and we don’t get sevens. Things have to be right. He’s such a good goalkeeper that you have to make him loud. Tonight we shot really well, we created a lot of chances and our guys killed the chances we got. The boys felt it tonight.”
And how. Colorado has consistently preached the importance of not letting Tampa Bay’s pedigree sway its approach. In Game 2, the Avalanche won all fights, were better on special teams (2-on-4 with the extra man compared to the Lightning’s 0-on-3), and pulled off a strong performance from goaltender Darcy Kuemper in a 16: shutdown save .
That was the fewest shots Tampa Bay has scored in a playoff game this year. Not entirely surprising given how little possession time — about 28% — the Lightning were able to counter Colorado’s suffocating attack, which they had no answers to.
“[We are] hungry on the defensive side of things, trying to win as many races as possible, as many battles as possible, getting over pucks and making it difficult,” Bednar said. “It’s part of who we are and who we are. Our boys have done it all year and they continue to do it. Tonight they did better than we usually do.”
As good as Game 2 was, Colorado is aware that it was just a win.
“I feel like we played with our identities tonight,” Makar said. “Obviously we had some good goals. But at the end of the day we know they will do their best in the next game. It’s always the next game that’s the most difficult. It was a bit strange tonight.” We get chances but the lads were able to capitalize so that’s a good part.”
The Avalanche suffered a setback on Saturday when Burakovsky left the game mid-game with an injury. Bednar had no update on his status afterwards, saying he has yet to be evaluated. Burakovsky recently missed time in the Western Conference Finals due to a leg condition, but has been an important play since his return, even scoring the Game 1 overtime winner.
Luckily for Colorado, it doesn’t lack depth. And the Avalanche will need everyone on board when the show moves to Tampa. The Lightning also trailed 2-0 to New York in the Eastern Conference Finals series, then went home to win a pair and finally defeated the Rangers with four straight wins to advance to their third straight Cup final.
Everyone knows it’s not over until it’s over. Bednar said he’s confident his team won’t overtake.
“It should be easy for us [going to Tampa]”, he said. “We don’t pay attention to the noise outside our dressing room and we don’t pay attention to when [things being said] are good. Our team just seems very focused, dialed in and they’re hungry and they want to win so they’re playing as hard as they can to make that happen [goal].”