Upon reflection after the Avalanche failed in the chance to close out the Tampa Bay Lightning with a Game 5 win at Ball Arena in the Stanley Cup Final Friday night, it’s surprising the scenario doesn’t play out more often.
The Stanley Cup is in the building, so nearby you can feel the sensation — and taste — of kissing it.
You don’t have to see the Cup to feel its presence and its aura.
You’re SO close to realizing a life-long dream, most likely dating back to your early days on skates.
You’re coming off an emotional win and have a 3-0 or 3-1 lead in the series.
Seemingly everyone around you presumptuously is gearing up for the celebration.
Turn on the radio or TV or check out social media, and you’re getting the impression that while not considered an impending cakewalk, the clinching win is inevitable.
Sure, everyone is careful to say, “If…”
And then you don’t close the deal.
Just when the incentive seems to have been maximized, you’re a bit flat. Just off.
Look, the Avalanche didn’t have a terrible game in their 3-2 loss to the two-time defending Stanley Cup champion Tampa Bay Lightning Friday night.
They got goals from Valeri Nichushkin and Cale Makar, and put 37 shots on Andrei Vasilevskiy, who was staunch. That conceded, the world’s best goalie didn’t flat-out steal this one, either.
Colorado just lost in the matchup of the Lightning team trying to three-peat and step farther into dynastic territory vs. the Avalanche team seeking to break through for the Colorado franchise’s third NHL championship — and perhaps start its own run.
But think of how tough it must have been to be unaffected by the atmosphere of anticipation swirling around. During the game itself, workers started to arrange portable barriers to direct media and others on the ice for the post-game interviews, coverage and celebration. The Cup, with its keepers, was shown being rolled closer to the ice in its crate.
And later, when Avalanche players Gabriel Landeskog, Darcy Kuemper, Devon Toews and Makar met the media in “scrums” and then Jared Bednar fielded questions in the interview room, they could be excused for thinking: We’re supposed to be celebrating now.
It took Ondrej Palat’s goal at 13:38 of the third period for the Lightning to break a 2-2 tie, and it ultimately stood up as the game-winner.
The Avalanche’s next chance to claim the Cup is Game 6 Sunday night at Amalie Arena in Tampa.
“We’re still up 3-2 in the series,” said Makar. “You gotta move on. I blew the assignment on the (Palat) goal. Just a mental lapse and unfortunately it was in the back of our net. That just can’t happen.”
That Makar would bring that up unprompted and take the blame — and this was three days after being named the Norris Trophy winner — was characteristic.
“I wouldn’t put that one all on Cale,” Bednar said. “I thought we were a little bit loose on the entry … We ended up with three guys covering their two at the net and they made the play to the open man at top.”
It also wasn’t surprising that media members served up questions that served up chances for the Avalanche to whine about the officiating. (GEE WHIZ, THE AVALANCHE HAD ONLY TWO POWER PLAYS, THE LIGHTNING FOUR!!!!)
But they were either tight-lipped or otherwise didn’t take the bait.
“I’m not going to get into that,” said Landeskog. “That’s something they (the Lightning) can continue to do. We’re not doing that. We’re focusing on our game. We’re going to watch some video (Saturday) and make sure we’re fine-tuning some things going into the next game there.”
In fact, Bednar said the too-many-men call on Colorado at 17:17 of the third — when Colorado had been pressing for the tying goal — was the correct call.
“I think we left early,” Bednar said of the call. “Yeah. The puck kind of popped out to center ice, Guys were on the way to the bench and we left early.”
The Lightning used the power play more as a time-eater than an aggressive attempt to open up a two-goal lead, but that didn’t come back to haunt them.
When the power play was over, the Avalanche had another 43 seconds to push for the tying goal with Darcy Kuemper out of the net. They didn’t get it.
Earlier, Makar drew a minor for tripping Palat at 6:58 of the second period, when the teams had been skating 4-on-4, and Nikita Kucherov scored for the Lightning on the resulting 4-on-3.
“I haven’t seen it yet,” Makar said. “It’s obviously to the refs’ discretion; It varies game by game and we just have to battle through that. There’s not much to it.”
Asked again about the officiating, Makar responded: “I’m not here to talk about the refs. We have to battle through that. There’s going to be discrepancies game to game with different people. You can’t get your emotions taken into that. For me, that doesn’t happen very often, At the end of the day, you have to refocus.”
Bednar said he “didn’t love that call (on Makar) because there was no intent there. I don’t think (Makar) was even checking that guy. It looked to me like he kind of tripped over his stick. It’s a tough one. They got their only power play goal on that one, so that hurt and stung a little bit … You gotta roll with the punches.”
Landeskog paid homage to the Lightning.
“They’re in the Finals the third year in a row,” he said. “It’s not supposed to be easy and it’s not going to be easy. We knew that coming into tonight. . . We felt good about our game in the third. They created a slot shot that squeezes through Kuemps. It is what it is. Short memory in the playoffs. And that’s what we’re going to do.”
Kuemper had 26 saves, and the Lightning’s first goal came on a highly stoppable shot from the boards by the unlikely Jan Rutta.
“It was a little bit of a knuckler,” Kuemper said.
After a staunch Game 4, Kuemper regressed in Game 5.
“He was OK,” Bednar said. “I would have liked to see him get the first one, obviously. But besides that, I thought he battled hard.”
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