DENVER — Game 1 of the Stanley Cup finals was described because the challenger catching up to the reigning champion. In Game 2, the challenger flew proper on previous.
The Colorado Avalanche, forecast a number of years in the past by many to shortly ascend the ladder to N.H.L. greatness, are two victories away from profitable the Stanley Cup after a 7-0 destruction of the two-time defending champion Tampa Bay Lightning on Saturday in a sport that felt like a coming-out celebration.
The query now: Can Tampa Bay revive itself, because it did within the Eastern Conference 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 workforce of the long run? Was Game 2 an aberration or has Colorado arrived with extra urgency than anybody had predicted?
“They are playing at an elite level right now, give them credit,” Lightning Coach Jon Cooper mentioned. “We are not.”
The hardest half nonetheless lies forward for Colorado. The subsequent two video games, together with Game 3 on Monday evening, are at sea degree in Tampa, Fla., and no workforce in three seasons has discovered a method to knock out the champion up to now. Tampa Bay has received 11 straight playoff collection, however the Avalanche have the look of a unique creature.
Entering the finals, some Lightning gamers acknowledged Colorado could be one of the best workforce they’ve confronted on this championship run. But they by no means meant to recommend the Avalanche have been higher. Two video games into the collection, although, Colorado appears quicker, extra harmful, brisker and much more dedicated.
“There’s a fine line between having respect for your opponent and too much respect for your opponent,” Steven Stamkos, the captain of the Lightning, mentioned. “We need to realize that we got here for a reason. Let’s get back to our game and understand they have an unbelievable team over there with great skill at every position. But so do we. So let’s find out what we’re made of when they get back home.”
It is changing into more and more clear what Colorado is manufactured from. Led by a world-class playmaker, Nathan MacKinnon, and a transcendent, puck-moving defenseman, Cale Makar, the workforce additionally has a scorching supporting solid. It consists of forwards Mikko Rantanen, Andre Burakovsky, Gabriel Landeskog and Valeri Nichushkin, who scored twice in Game 2, plus the defenseman Devon Toews. All of them are youthful than 30.
The Lightning, with the second-oldest common age of any workforce within the N.H.L., have relied on their expertise to outplay opponents the final couple of years, however accruing all that have might have taken a toll.
Going deep into the postseason two years in a row, Tampa Bay has performed extra video games than some other workforce in that span, and any attainable fatigue might have been exacerbated by the altitude throughout Games 1 and a pair of. Denver sits at roughly a mile above sea degree, which can have affected the Lightning’s performances. If so, a return to sea degree for Games 3 and 4 might assist.
They want it. After Game 1, which went to additional time, the Lightning spoke of getting a greater understanding of how the Avalanche play. But it was Colorado that enhanced its benefit with a brand new set of achievements.
It grew to become the second workforce 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 Game 6 that yr.
Colorado additionally grew to become the third workforce to rating 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 have been scored at a better price than in at the moment’s sport.
And with Makar scoring twice in Game 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 rating on each side of a person benefit in a Stanley Cup finals sport. Glen Wesley of the Boston Bruins did it in 1988 towards Edmonton.
Colorado has received seven consecutive playoff video games, together with its sweep of the Oilers within the Western Conference finals, and is 7-0 on the highway — a juggernaut reaching peak pace in Game 2 of the finals.
“It was certainly as close to a perfect game as you can get from the players,” Avalanche Coach Jared Bednar mentioned.
Andrei Vasilevskiy, Tampa Bay’s usually very good goalie, bore the brunt of the onslaught, permitting extra objectives than he had ever given up in a postseason sport. Most of it was not his fault. Colorado’s depraved tempo helped create quite a few premium possibilities, 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 better game next game.”
Vasilevskiy has not been changed in a playoff sport since 2018, a streak of 77 video games, and Cooper mentioned he didn’t ponder eradicating him from Game 2.
“Even if I did, I don’t think he would have come out,” Cooper mentioned. “That’s what a competitor he is. That’s why he’s the best.”
Stamkos mentioned the time had come for all of the Lightning gamers to “man up,” and Victor Hedman, a veteran defenseman, mentioned the workforce would determine it out at dwelling. But what confounded Cooper was the absence of pushback towards a workforce that was zooming previous his.
Although the Avalanche are far completely different from the Rangers, Cooper mentioned, the Lightning can draw on their expertise towards New York of abruptly reversing course at dwelling.
“We’ve written one story,” Cooper mentioned. “Now we just have to write another.”