The Colorado Avalanche is the Stanley Cup champion for the first time since 2001, thanks to a resilience that had eluded them in recent years.
The Avalanche tied an NHL record with their 10th come-from-behind win of the playoffs to defeat the Tampa Bay Lightning 2-1 in Game 6 Sunday night, ending the reign of the two-time champion.
Colorado star Nathan MacKinnon had his best game of the series with a goal and an assist in the second period to help the Avalanche reach the franchise’s third Stanley Cup with a 16-4 playoff record.
“It’s a relief. A 20-pound weight has been lifted off our shoulders and it means so much to bring this championship back to the city of Denver,” Captain Gabriel Landeskog told NHL Network during the celebration on the ice at Tampa’s Amalie Arena. .
The Lightning, who attempted to send the series back to Denver for Game 7, got off to a good start when captain Steven Stamkos scored at 3:48 of the first period after a turnover in Colorado.
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But MacKinnon made it to a one-timer on a delayed penalty at 1:54 of the second period. The Lightning argued that they touched the puck after the penalty kick, which should have resulted in the call dead, but the umpires disagreed.
Artturi Lehkonen defeated Lightning goalkeeper Andrei Vasilevskiy at 12:28 PM to give the Avalanche their first regulatory lead since Game 3. It was his fourth winning goal and second consecutive series win.
Goalkeeper Darcy Kuemper, who was taken over in the off-season after Philipp Grubauer left free agency, secured that lead with a strong save against Nikita Kucherov in the third period. He finished with 22 saves.
The Avalanche has steadily improved since finishing last in 2016-17 and finishing second, first and third for the past three regular seasons.
Colorado was knocked out in the second round of the last three postseasons, last year being particularly difficult as the Avalanche lost in six games to the Vegas Golden Knights after taking a 2-0 lead.
“They had a rough end to last year,” CEO Joe Sakic told NHL Network. “It stung. This group, from day 1 in training camp, they are preparing, they are doing everything they can to make this happen.”
Sakic, the captain of the Avalanche during the franchise’s 1996 and 2001 championships, spent the 2022 trade deadline adding grit to the blue line and improving penalty kills. Defender Josh Manson helped with both and gave Lehkonen, Nico Sturm and Andrew Cogliano death sentences.
The moves also gave the Avalanche the depth to overcome a season-ending injury from defender Sam Girard and missed matches from Nazem Kadri, Andre Burakovsky and Cogliano. They defeated the Nashville Predators in the first round and the Edmonton Oilers in the conference finals, and defeated the St. Louis Blues in six games in the second round.
Cale Makar Wins Conn Smythe Trophy as Playoff MVP
Norris Trophy winner Cale Makar was elected to the winner of the Conn Smythe Trophy as playoff MVP after recording 29 points.
Makar (23 years, 239 days) became the youngest defenseman in 52 years to win the Conn Smythe Trophy and the third overall to do so when he was 23 or younger, after Bobby Orr with the 1970 Boston Bruins (22 years, 51 days) and Serge Savard with the 1969 Montreal Canadiens (23 years, 102 days).
Lightning falls short on offer for three peat
The Lightning had to recreate their low season depth due to pay cap issues, but got past the Toronto Maple Leafs, Florida Panthers and New York Rangers to reach the finals for the third straight year. They only won Games 3 and 5 to fail the NHL’s first three-peat since the 1980s, but they did win 11 consecutive series.
“We just ran out of gas,” Lightning coach Jon Cooper told reporters.
Cooper brought the whole coaching to the podium as he had done after the previous championships.
“It’s hard because it’s so raw,” he said. “We haven’t experienced this feeling in three years. … I will always remember this team for what they went through, what they went through to get to this point. You have to marvel at them.”
The Lightning never had home field advantage in the playoffs and faced injuries, including having starred Brayden Point for just two games since Game 7 of the first round. Cooper said other players played through injuries.
“What they went through was mind-boggling,” he said. “Had it been the regular season, we would have had half of our small team playing… The heart of the champions.”
Around the ice rinks
Defender Erik Johnson, who has played with the Avalanche since 2011, was the second person to be handed the Stanley Cup after Landeskog first lifted it. He has been dealing with injuries in recent years. “Last year I thought maybe I should retire, and here I am Stanley Cup champion with some of my best friends in the world,” he told ESPN. ‘I am so grateful. I can not believe it.’ … NHL Deputy Commissioner Bill Daly made the post-game presentations because Commissioner Gary Bettman has tested positive for COVID-19.
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Stanley Cup Finals: Avalanche Beats Lightning to Win Championship