DENVER — Sport 1 of the Stanley Cup finals was described because the challenger catching as much as the reigning champion. In Sport 2, the challenger flew proper on previous.
The Colorado Avalanche, forecast a number of years in the past by many to rapidly ascend the ladder to N.H.L. greatness, are two victories away from successful the Stanley Cup after a 7-0 destruction of the two-time defending champion Tampa Bay Lightning on Saturday in a recreation that felt like a coming-out social gathering.
The query now: Can Tampa Bay revive itself, because it did within the Jap Convention finals after the Rangers grabbed a short-lived 2-0 collection lead? Or is the hockey world witnessing the switch of energy from a dignified however exhausted champion to a younger, dynamic crew of the long run? Was Sport 2 an aberration or has Colorado arrived with extra urgency than anybody had predicted?
“They’re taking part in at an elite stage proper now, give them credit score,” Lightning Coach Jon Cooper mentioned. “We’re not.”
The toughest half nonetheless lies forward for Colorado. The subsequent two video games, together with Sport 3 on Monday evening, are at sea stage in Tampa, Fla., and no crew in three seasons has discovered a approach to knock out the champion up to now. Tampa Bay has received 11 straight playoff collection, however the Avalanche have the look of a distinct creature.
Getting into the finals, some Lightning gamers acknowledged Colorado could be the most effective crew they’ve confronted on this championship run. However they by no means meant to recommend the Avalanche had been higher. Two video games into the collection, although, Colorado appears sooner, extra harmful, brisker and much more dedicated.
“There’s a tremendous line between having respect in your opponent and an excessive amount of respect in your opponent,” Steven Stamkos, the captain of the Lightning, mentioned. “We have to notice that we received right here for a cause. Let’s get again to our recreation and perceive they’ve an unbelievable crew over there with nice talent at each place. However so can we. So let’s discover out what we’re made from once they get again dwelling.”
It’s turning into more and more clear what Colorado is made from. Led by a world-class playmaker, Nathan MacKinnon, and a transcendent, puck-moving defenseman, Cale Makar, the crew additionally has a scorching supporting solid. It consists of forwards Mikko Rantanen, Andre Burakovsky, Gabriel Landeskog and Valeri Nichushkin, who scored twice in Sport 2, plus the defenseman Devon Toews. All of them are youthful than 30.
The Lightning, with the second-oldest common age of any crew within the N.H.L., have relied on their expertise to outplay opponents the final couple of years, however accruing all that have could have taken a toll.
Going deep into the postseason two years in a row, Tampa Bay has performed extra video games than every other crew in that span, and any potential fatigue could have been exacerbated by the altitude throughout Video games 1 and a couple of. Denver sits at roughly a mile above sea stage, which can have affected the Lightning’s performances. In that case, a return to sea stage for Video games 3 and 4 may assist.
They want it. After Sport 1, which went to additional time, the Lightning spoke of getting a greater understanding of how the Avalanche play. But it surely was Colorado that enhanced its benefit with a brand new set of achievements.
It grew to become the second crew in additional than 100 years to register a shutout within the Stanley Cup finals with a margin of greater than seven objectives, after the 1991 Pittsburgh Penguins, who beat the Minnesota North Stars, 8-0, within the clinching Sport 6 that yr.
Colorado additionally grew to become the third crew to attain seven objectives 4 instances in a single postseason, becoming a member of the Edmonton Oilers, who did it six instances in 1984 and 5 instances in 1985, in an period when objectives had been scored at the next charge than in as we speak’s recreation.
And with Makar scoring twice in Sport 2, the Avalanche’s blue liners have 17 objectives (seven by Makar) and 61 factors in these playoffs, a document for Colorado defensemen. Makar sniped a short-handed aim and added one other on an influence play, making him the second N.H.L. defenseman to attain on each side of a person benefit in a Stanley Cup finals recreation. Glen Wesley of the Boston Bruins did it in 1988 in opposition to Edmonton.
Colorado has received seven consecutive playoff video games, together with its sweep of the Oilers within the Western Convention finals, and is 7-0 on the highway — a juggernaut reaching peak velocity in Sport 2 of the finals.
“It was actually as near an ideal recreation as you will get from the gamers,” Avalanche Coach Jared Bednar mentioned.
Andrei Vasilevskiy, Tampa Bay’s usually excellent goalie, bore the brunt of the onslaught, permitting extra objectives than he had ever given up in a postseason recreation. Most of it was not his fault. Colorado’s depraved tempo helped create quite a few premium probabilities, a few of which Vasilevskiy saved with outstanding dexterity.
“We hung him out to dry,” Stamkos mentioned. “We owe it to him to have a greater recreation subsequent recreation.”
Vasilevskiy has not been changed in a playoff recreation since 2018, a streak of 77 video games, and Cooper mentioned he didn’t ponder eradicating him from Sport 2.
“Even when I did, I don’t suppose he would have come out,” Cooper mentioned. “That’s what a competitor he’s. That’s why he’s the most effective.”
Stamkos mentioned the time had come for all of the Lightning gamers to “man up,” and Victor Hedman, a veteran defenseman, mentioned the crew would determine it out at dwelling. However what confounded Cooper was the absence of pushback in opposition to a crew that was zooming previous his.
Though the Avalanche are far totally different from the Rangers, Cooper mentioned, the Lightning can draw on their expertise in opposition to New York of abruptly reversing course at dwelling.
“We’ve written one story,” Cooper mentioned. “Now we simply have to write down one other.”