Things are looking dire for one of the two teams in the Stanley Cup Final, and despite all the hullabaloo from the national (and even local) media about the strength and determination and veteran wiles born from nearly three-straight years of experience, the Colorado Avalanche have the Tampa Bay Lightning pinned against the boards 200 feet from the puck.
With an astounding and downright dominant win over the Bolts, the Avs are headed to Florida to attempt a sweep in the final round of the NHL playoffs for the second time in franchise history.
Ironically, that was also against a hockey club from Florida, the Panthers in 1995-96.
And the ’96 and ’01 Cup-winning teams have been the gold standard for the Avalanche ever since.
But that may no longer be the case, if this current iteration of the club has any say.
They’ve been sick of being compared to last year’s losers. They’ve been sick of being compared to the losers from the year before that… and the year before that.
They’ve been asked, and talked, about the teams of yesteryear, whether they featured on them or not, ad nauseam this season. Now they’re done talking.
When asked postgame by ESPN’s Emily Kaplan whether he would celebrate the second-most lopsided shutout in NHL history, Cale Makar said, “No.”
Then he dropped the mic and walked into the late June Colorado sunset. Not really, but you know, metaphorically or whatever.
Postgame, mild mannered Ken doll-turned-wundercoach Jared Bednar gave all the credit to his players.
“I don’t know about the perfect plan, but it was certainly as close to perfect of a game you can get from your players,” he said. “Coming out of Game 1, we were dangerous offensively, but I thought that there was another step to it for group. So we evaluated that, we showed them some things. They did a nice job. And on the defensive side of it, we were way better tonight, way better. It wasn’t even close.”
Everyone anticipated pushback from the team looking to create the first true Stanley Cup dynasty since the 1980s. They took Game 1 into overtime after a dreadful first period that saw them in a hole.
Even Lightning head coach Jon Cooper all but guaranteed a better start.
“I’ll tell you what I expect from our team. I expect us to be way the heck better in the first 10 minutes than we were the other night,” Cooper said Saturday afternoon. “And the rest of the game will take care of itself. But that’s what we have to do. We have to weather that energy and excitement in this building for them and we should be okay.”
Well his club again trailed by two goals in the first 10 minutes, a promising first shift having turned into ashes once more thanks to the speed and tenacity and relentlessness of what appears to be a much better Avalanche squad.
“It was tough taking the penalty. We kill it off, they scored with a couple seconds left,” Cooper said postgame. “So did we handle that as well as we could have? Probably not. Obviously, you guys watch the game. It was all downhill after that.
“They’re playing at an elite level right now. Give them credit. We are not. They’re two good teams. They’re just playing at a much higher level than we are right now and I think it was evident watching that game tonight. So we have to elevate our play.”
On the other side, the otherworldly Makar, who himself scored twice—once on the power play and once shorthanded to become the second-ever rear guard to do so in the same Stanley Cup Final game (Glen Wesley also did it with the Boston Bruins in 1988)—reiterated a point that has obviously been a focus for the club this season.
“We know as a team that we get rewarded offensively when we play our best game defensively. So for us, it’s just coming to that kind of realization every single night,” he said, “Like I said in a previous question, they’re obviously a great team.
“I feel like we played to our identity to a ‘T’ tonight.”
And now the series heads out of the Mile High City to the land of gators and beaches and humidity, a town that has had its fair share of championship wins in recent years. Fans should hope this torrent of goalscoring and the inherent propensity to not give opponents an inch to continue.
It would be silly to expect the same thing in Game 3, but this shebang is all but over if the Lightning can’t get a win there.
“The game got away from us early and we have shown a propensity to push back for years. Tonight we didn’t,” Cooper said. “If this becomes a common theme in the series, it’ll probably be a short one. But I never doubt the guys in the room. Does it suck losing a game like that? For sure.
“We’re not used to it. It doesn’t really happen to us. Is it going to happen at times? Yeah. It is. You just hope it doesn’t happen in the Stanley Cup Final. We have a group that have been able to circle the wagons and respond. Disappointed the way the game went tonight, there’s no question. But I’m not questioning our team. They’re ballers in there. Turn the page. Go on to Game 3.”
The Colorado Avalanche are two wins away from the Stanley Cup Final. Someone get Blink-182 on the line, there may be a parade coming to Denver.
But let’s not get too ahead of ourselves.
Like Josh Manson said, “It feels good but job’s not done.”