DENVER (AP) — Cale Makar and the Colorado avalanche weren’t too interested in looking back at the simmering controversy over how Game 4 ended in overtime.
Far more important was looking ahead: a chance to take the franchise’s first Stanley Cup title since 2001. Also for their home fans, where ticket prices have risen to over $1,300 for a top-tier seat.
On Friday night in Game 5, Colorado has a chance not only to dethrone two-time defending champions Tampa Bay, but potentially to jump-start its own dynasty. behind a core of young, dynamic players like Makar
“It’s going to be the toughest we’ve had so far,” said Makar, whose team leads 3-1 in the best-of-seven series and has a 3-1 point in close-out games this postseason. “We have to expect them to bring everything they have with us, of course, because it’s do-or-die. We just have to be ready.”
The Lightning weren’t happy with the way things ended in overtime on Wednesday night. Nazem Kadri, with an injured thumb and all, scored the winner on a shot that slipped under the right arm of goalkeeper Andrei Vasilevskiy.
The Tampa Bay Complaint: The Avalanche seemed to have too many players on the ice.
A day later, Lightning coach Jon Cooper softened his stance.
“It’s a shame, but it’s water under the bridge now,” Cooper said. “It should be a great Game 5.”
All Colorado needs is one win in three tries — two at home — for his third Stanley Cup title since moving from Quebec to Denver in 1995-96. The Avalanche swept through Florida in their inaugural season, earning title No. 2 in ’01 with a Game 7 win at home over the New Jersey Devils.
At the time, Hall of Fame forward Joe Sakic led the attack on the ice.
Now his fingerprints are all over this fast-flying team as general manager. He saw five players he picked up just before or during the season, together for five points on the tying and winning goals in Game 4. Kadri was acquired by Sakic in 2019 as part of a deal with Toronto.
Sakic gathered this squad around playmakers like Makar, captain Gabriel Landesog, Mikko Rantanen and Nathan MacKinnon. They have been an important reason why this team exists 15-3 in these play-offs and about to beat the champions.
“You can tell they are hungry,” said Hockey Hall of Famer Bryan Trottier, who won six Stanley Cup titles in 2001 as a player and another with the Avalanche as an assistant coach. “Landeskog has been in the league for a long time, MacKinnon has been in the league for a long time and now they’re getting a taste of it and they’re on the brink of something pretty exciting.”
But winning No. 16 will not be easy. Rarely is this time of year.
“They’re probably preaching, ‘They’ve never been here. They will be tight ‘and that’s fair,’ said MacKinnon, who scored his first goal of the series on Wednesday. “But we’re ready to go. We’ve been under tremendous pressure all season, all the playoffs.”
This is a proud Lightning crew that has come back before. They trailed 2-0 in the Eastern Conference Finals against the New York Rangers before reuniting. They also trailed Toronto 3-2 in the first round.
“If there’s one thing I know about this group, it’s that we respond well to adversity,” said Tampa Bay defender Victor Hedman. “We are a resilient group. We believe in what we have.”
Avalanche goalkeeper Darcy Kuemper recovered from a Game 3 pullout on Wednesday with a 37 save performance. He also had an assist on the winning goal when he sent the puck to Artturi Lehkonen, who handed the puck to Kadri. According to NHL Stats, Kuemper became the first goalkeeper in league history to provide an assist in the OT of a Stanley Cup Final game.
“Great awareness by Kuemps,” Landeskog said.
The Game 4 wins marked the 15th time this season the Avalanche have rallied for the win after trailing in third. That total (11 in the regular season, four in the playoffs) ranks third in a season in NHL history. The highest figure belongs to the Anaheim Ducks, who had 22 in the 2014-15 season.
“Our guys have done a good job of focusing on our stuff and it has brought us success,” said Avalanche coach Jared Bednar. We will continue with that.”
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