TAMPA — Not so fast. As Tampa Bay’s 6-2 rout of the Avalanche in Game 3 of the Stanley Cup Final demonstrated Monday night here at Amalie Arena, the Lightning will not go quietly.
(Cue the movie-style flash of bright white light here).
The two-time defending champions effectively got back in the series.
In fact, the Stanley Cup now won’t necessarily have to be in the house Wednesday night for Game 4 in Tampa.
There’s now no chance of a sweep scenario in this series that would be eerily remindful of the Avalanche’s 1996 first-ever Colorado major-league championship. That was earned with the sweep of another Florida-based franchise — the Panthers — that left Joe Sakic, Peter Forsberg, Patrick Roy and their teammates taking turns hoisting the Cup in a relatively subdued Miami Arena.
The Avalanche still lead in the series and even could end up winning in six games, which would lead to the passing of the Cup from Gary Bettman to Gabriel Landeskog in Amalie Arena next Sunday.
But it won’t be a sweep.
Plus, this re-emphasized that winning the most physically and mentally post-season test in pro sports involves a body of work, not snapshots.
What so many seemed to overlook in the wake of the Avalanche’s 7-0 throttling of the Lightning Saturday night in Game 2 in Denver was that as mouth-dropping, head-shaking impressive as it was, it was only one win.
Its decisiveness was not on its own an indication that the Lightning would be psychologically scarred by the humiliation, overmatched for the rest of the series, and destined to be swept or otherwise dispatched in ignominious fashion.
That was one win for the Avalanche. One. No more.
The same for the Lightning’s response in Game 3.
That was one win for the Lightning, too. One. No more.
The Avalanche this time only beat Andrei Vasilevskiy for Landeskog’s two goals, and Darcy Kuemper — largely inactive and untested in his Game 2 shutout — gave way to Pavel Francouz after allowing five goals on 22 shots. Kuemper exited at 11:15 of the second period after the Lightning took a 5-2 lead on Pat Maroon’s goal.
“Defensively, we have some things to clean up,” Landeskog said. “Our exits weren’t as good. We allowed some quality scoring chances that we haven’t done so far in the series. . . We try to stay as even-keel as possible. When you win, it’s not much to it. When you lose, it’s the same thing. We’ll watch some video tomorrow and learn and get better from it and be ready for Game 4.”
Nathan MacKinnon had six shots on goal, but went pointless in the loss.
“Obviously it sucks losing,” he said in the post-game scrums. “But I thought we played OK. . . Everything kind of went wrong for us tonight. We got beaten for sure, but it wasn’t all bad.”
He added: “I like the looks I’m getting. I have to put the puck in the back of the net. That’s my job.”
MacKinnon also noted a playoff credo.
“You have to have a short memory,,” he said. “We’re gonna lose games. We’ve won every (previous) game on the road, so I guess we were kind of due for a tough night. Every mistake we made, they capitalized on, and that’s how they play. They’re a really good team. That’s obvious. We have to be sharper.”
Just one win in these routs?
Trite? Or course.
Obvious? Of course.
Yet now we have confirmation: More important than the blowouts, home ice has held up through three games in the series and if that continues through Game 4 in Tampa, the series goes back to Denver tied up at 2-2.
I wrote this before the series started, and I’ll stick with it: The Avalanche will win this … in seven games.
The major warning sign is whether the Avalanche’s disadvantage in the goaltending matchup rears its ugly head (or mask).
On nights like these, when Kuemper is shaky or awful — or both — it renews the concern that Vasilevskiy could swing this series by ridiculously outplaying Kuemper or Francouz. And it also challenges Jared Bednar to decide whether to go with Francouz as the starter the rest of the way.
“He didn’t have a good night,” Bednar said of Kuemper. “Neither did our team. We win as a team, lose as a team. We weren’t as good as we need to be.”
MacKinnon said he told Kuemper to “just shake it off. He’s been great all year. I’m not going to get down on him. He had a shutout last game and played great. Tough bounces for him, too. I can’t remember all the goals, but it’s just unfortunate.”
Terry Frei (firstname.lastname@example.org, @tfrei) is a Denver-based author and journalist. He has been named a state’s sportswriter of the year seven times in peer voting — four times in Colorado and three times in Oregon. His seven books include the novels “Olympic Affair” and “The Witch’s Season.” Among his five non-fiction works are “Horns, Hogs, and Nixon Coming,” “Third Down and a War to Go,” “March 1939: Before the Madness,” and “’77: Denver, the Broncos, and a Coming of Age.” He also collaborated with Adrian Dater on “Save By Roy,” was a long-time vice president of the Professional Hockey Writers Association and has covered the hockey Rockies, Avalanche and the NHL at-large. His website is www.terryfrei.com and his bio is available at www.terryfrei.com/bio.html
His Colorado Hockey Now column archive can be accessed here