TAMPA, Fla. — The sport that ushered the Colorado Avalanche to the precipice of profitable their first Stanley Cup in over twenty years had ended a minute or two earlier, and the Hockey Corridor of Famer in the back of the freight elevator at Amalie Enviornment stared straight forward because it descended the seven flights to ice degree.
His face betrayed no trace as to what he had simply witnessed — the puck that vanished, the confusion that reigned, the euphoria that adopted — or to what it meant to him, the person who assembled the juggernaut of those N.H.L. playoffs.
Earlier than Recreation 4 of the finals Wednesday night time, it was he, Joe Sakic, now the Avalanche’s normal supervisor, who had scored the franchise’s most memorable objective this millennium. He ceded that distinction — fortunately, presumably — to Nazem Kadri, whose shot off the push fooled everybody, together with Lightning goalie Andrei Vasilevskiy, the on-ice officers and a house crowd in Tampa unaccustomed to silence.
When lastly noticed within the netting, the puck supplied affirmation not solely of Colorado’s 3-2 extra time victory but additionally of an overarching reality this collection, and on this postseason. The Lightning may need the bona fides and the tenacity of a two-time defending champion, however Colorado has been the superior workforce.
The Avalanche have performed 18 playoff video games and gained 15. They swamped Nashville, St. Louis and Edmonton — sweeping the primary and third rounds — earlier than prevailing 3 times in opposition to the Lightning, twice in extra time, dominating each further durations. Their pace and talent and particular groups — seven targets to Tampa Bay’s one — have overwhelmed Tampa Bay, simply as Sakic had hoped they might heading into the collection. On Wednesday, Kadri and 5 gamers acquired inside the final 12 months — and three forward of the commerce deadline, in Andrew Cogliano, Nico Sturm and Artturi Lehkonen — mixed for six factors on the tying and profitable targets.
Colorado can hoist the Cup with yet another win, as quickly as Friday night time in Denver, the place within the comforts of the mile-high altitude the Avalanche thumped the Lightning by 11-3 in Video games 1 and a pair of.
“Clearly, they’re most likely preaching, ‘They’ve by no means been right here; they’re going to be tight,’ and that’s truthful,” the Colorado star heart Nathan MacKinnon mentioned. “However we’ll be able to go. We’ve been nice below stress all playoffs, all season.”
MacKinnon is appropriate, by all accounts. Perennial contenders, Colorado hadn’t performed for the Cup since 2001, when Sakic scored the clinching objective in Recreation 7 in opposition to the Devils, or within the convention finals since 2002. This regardless of rolling to the Presidents’ Trophy final season, for having the N.H.L.’s greatest file, regardless of boasting a feared assortment of expertise, together with MacKinnon, whose strides must be measured by a seismograph, ahead Mikko Rantanen and the Norris Trophy-winning defenseman Cale Makar, whose comparisons to Bobby Orr would possibly look like sacrilege in the event that they weren’t so putting.
Typically, although, within the grueling pursuit of a Cup, groups profit from luck, from happenstance and circumstance and from boundless ache tolerance: from dealing with lesser goalies within the first three rounds to Kadri’s surgically repaired proper thumb regaining sufficient operate to advantage his rejoining the lineup after a three-week absence.
“Simply considering I used to be executed after which having a sliver of hope, sitting right here proper now, it’s form of surreal,” Kadri mentioned, including, “That is what I’ve been ready for my complete life just about.”
In Recreation 4 of their second-round triumph in opposition to St. Louis, Kadri scored a hat trick mere hours after receiving racist loss of life threats from followers for a collision that knocked Blues goalie Jordan Binnington out of the collection. In one other Recreation 4, on Wednesday, Kadri completed off a sequence that started with a candy go from goalie Darcy Kuemper — who, sensing the Lightning have been drained, had the attention to push the puck up ice — and roof the puck previous Vasilevskiy. Or so it appeared.
For just a few seconds, nobody celebrated, in a second that evoked one other anticlimactic extra time game-winner from the finals, scored by Chicago’s Patrick Kane in 2010 to clinch the title over Philadelphia. Then Kadri began nodding, the bench began emptying and the Lightning began skating off the ice, their hopes for a 3rd consecutive title in peril.
Even to succeed in this stage, they needed to outlast the league’s two highest-scoring groups, Toronto and Florida, and overcome a 2-0 collection deficit in opposition to the Rangers, all whereas beginning each collection on the street. To increase this one, the Lightning should stifle an unholy trinity of disappointment: shedding in extra time, at residence, on a objective they believed mustn’t have counted.
Strolling into his postgame information convention, Tampa Bay Coach Jon Cooper appeared like he wanted a stiff drink, a hug or a while alone in a soundproof room with the officiating crew — or all three, actually. He took one query earlier than excusing himself, sounding defeated as he lauded his workforce’s accomplishments in a salary-cap period that stifles would-be dynasties earlier than veering right into a cryptic response that disputed the legitimacy of Kadri’s objective.
“This one goes to sting way more than others,” Cooper mentioned, including, “You’re going to see what I imply while you see the profitable objective. And my coronary heart breaks for the gamers. As a result of we most likely nonetheless must be taking part in.”
As he reiterated Thursday, Cooper, a former lawyer, contended, based mostly on replays ricocheting throughout social media, that Colorado had too many males on the ice when Kadri scored — that MacKinnon lingered too lengthy, too removed from the Avalanche bench, when Kadri jumped on. The league, in a press release issued Thursday morning by its division of hockey operations, mentioned that not one of the officers thought-about it a violation, and that the decision was not topic to video assessment.
Although he did say Thursday the workforce should transfer on, neither time did Cooper point out, naturally, that the Lightning benefited from an identical noncall final postseason, after they appeared to have had an additional participant on the ice for the objective that ousted the Islanders in Recreation 7 of their semifinal collection. In hockey, if not in life, these moments are inclined to even out, and neither the interpretation of a rule nor the vagaries of a puck might reduce Colorado’s authority in extra time, when it almost scored on loads of different events.
In accordance with Pure Stat Trick, the Avalanche have registered 75 extra complete pictures at even energy than the Lightning. They’ve 11 extra high-danger scoring possibilities. They’ve confused Tampa Bay by means of the impartial zone and between the circles and beneath the objective line.
That is how they’ve gained all season, all postseason, and until Tampa Bay can summon one remaining thrust — after which one other, after which one other — the following time Sakic goes down an elevator to the ice, it will likely be to elevate the Stanley Cup.