DENVER — The Colorado Avalanche defeated the Tampa Bay Lightning 7-0 in Game 2 of the Stanley Cup Finals on Saturday to take a 2-0 lead over the two-time defending Cup champions.
It was such a good performance that even Avalanche coach Jared Bednar didn’t really have any notes on how to improve.
“It was certainly as perfect a game as you could get from your players,” Bednar said. “Coming out of Game 1 we were dangerous offensively, but I thought there was another step for our group. We assessed that, we showed them some things and they did a good job. And on the defensive side “, we were much better tonight. wasn’t even close. I think we made some big mistakes that led to goals against in the first game. We improved in those areas and others.
It’s no small feat either to score seven goals against a world goalkeeper like Andrei Vasilevskiy. But Colorado had his number from the start.
Valeri Nichushkin rolled the Avalanche early in the first period with a power-play goal, then Josh Manson followed it up with a one-timer against Vasilevskiy out of bounds. Andre Burakovsky had Colorado leading 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 shorthanded goal to the rout. He added another on the power play to make it 7-0, becoming the fourth player in NHL history to score shorthanded and on the power play in a Cup Final game. . The others were Gordie Howe, Glen Wesley and Trevor Linden.
That kind of performance would be impressive against any goaltender, let alone a Vezina Trophy winner like Vasilevskiy. Bednar tried to keep the achievement in perspective with Colorado’s overall game.
“The number of goals, I’m not too excited [about]. I just think it’s about the way we played,” he said. “Some days we shoot better than others and we play like we did tonight, and we let’s not get seven. Things have to be fine. He’s such a good goalkeeper that you have to give him some volume. Tonight we shot very well, we created a lot of chances and our guys buried the chances we had. The guys were feeling it tonight.”
And how. Colorado has always preached the importance of not letting Tampa Bay’s pedigree affect its approach. In Game 2, the Avalanche won every battle, were better on special teams (2-for-4 with the extra man, compared to 0-for-3 for the Lightning), and had a strong goaltending performance Darcy Kuemper in a 16- save shutout.
It was the fewest shots Tampa Bay had generated in a playoff game this year. Not entirely surprising, considering how little possession time they had — about 28% — the Lightning were able to grab Colorado’s suffocating offense they had no answer for.
“[We are] hungry on the defensive side of things, trying to win as many runs as possible, as many battles as possible, overtaking the pucks and making it tough,” Bednar said. “It’s part of our identity and who we are. Our guys have been doing it all year and they continue to do it. Tonight they did it better than we usually do.”
As good as Game 2 was, Colorado is aware there was only one win.
“I feel like we played our identity to a ‘T’ tonight,” Makar said. “Obviously we had some good goals. But at the end of the day we know they’re going to give their best in the next game. It’s always the next game that’s the hardest. It was a bit weird that tonight. We get chances but the guys were able to capitalize so it’s a good game.”
The Avalanche suffered a setback Saturday, when Burakovsky left the game halfway through with an injury. Bednar had no status updates afterward, saying he was yet to be assessed. Burakovsky recently missed time in the Western Conference Finals with a leg injury, but had been an important play since his return, even scoring the overtime winner in Game 1.
Luckily for Colorado, he’s not lacking in depth. And the Avalanche will need everyone on board as the series moves to Tampa. The Lightning also followed their Eastern Conference final series against New York 2-0, then went home to win a pair and eventually outscored Rangers in four straight games to reach a third straight Cup final.
Everyone knows it’s not over until it’s over. Bednar said he was confident his team wouldn’t get ahead of their efforts.
“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 it when [things being said] are good. Our team just seems to be really focused, composed and they’re hungry and they want to win, so they’re playing as hard as they can to achieve that. [goal].”