Bolts on the Brink: 6 Takeaways from the Avalanche's Game 4 OT Win
Some call it a dynasty. Some suggest it's something different.
Regardless, the Tampa Bay Lightning's recent domination of the NHL playoffs is officially on life support after their 3-2 overtime loss to the Colorado Avalanche in Game 4 of the Stanley Cup Final on Wednesday night at Amalie Arena.
The Avalanche claimed a commanding 3-1 lead in the series when Nazem Kadri's wrist shot as he drove toward the goalmouth snuck under goaltender Andrei Vasilevskiy's right arm and into the top of the net after 12:02 of sudden-death play.
It was Colorado's sixth overtime win in these playoffs and gives them a chance to close out the series and win the franchise's first title in 21 years on Friday in Denver.
The B/R hockey team was in the building for the extended game and put together a list of takeaways from an apparently series-shifting result. Scroll through to see what we came up with, and drop a thought or two of your own in the comments.
Missed Call on Game-Winning Goal?
It wouldn't be a high-profile sporting event without some controversy.
A seething Tampa Bay coach Jon Cooper cut short his post-game press conference with a contention that a missed call by officials led to Kadri's game-winning goal in OT.
The NHL's official stat sheet indicates that six Colorado skaters—defenseman Bowen Byram, Erik Johnson and Josh Manson, and forwards Valeri Nichushkin, Arturi Lehkonen and Kadri—were on the ice at the time of the goal, which would have nullified the score if called.
"This one's gonna sting much more than others," he said. "You're gonna see what I mean when you see the winning goal. My heart breaks for the players because we probably should still be playing."
He added only, "I'll be available tomorrow," before leaving the podium.
Sakic's Deadline Moves Come Up Huge
Take a bow, Joe Sakic.
The longtime on-ice face of the Colorado organization looked particularly prescient as a general manager when two of his trade-deadline acquisitions, Andrew Cogliano and Nico Sturm, combined to score the goal that ultimately sent the game to OT.
Cogliano, who turned 35 last week, was in the slot when Sturm pounced on the rebound of a shot from the point and saw it deflect off his new teammate and into the net at 2:53 of the third period. The Lightning had led the game 1-0 after one period and 2-1 after the second.
Sakic acquired Cogliano, who debuted in 2007 with Edmonton, for a fifth-round pick in the 2024 draft from his fourth NHL team, the San Jose Sharks. Sturm, meanwhile, was sent from Central Division rival Minnesota to the Avalanche for Tyson Jost. He'd played with the Wild since debuting in the league during the 2018-19 season.
It was Cogliano's third goal of the playoffs and first since Game 1 of the Western Conference Final against the Oilers. He was with the Dallas Stars when they faced the Lightning in the 2019-20 title round in the pandemic-necessitated playoff bubble in Edmonton.
MacKinnon Finally Gets One
For a player on Nathan MacKinnon's level, it had been a while.
So when the former No. 1 overall pick and prodigious point-producer scored to tie the game at 5:17 of the second period, it mattered statistically.
MacKinnon hadn't scored in the series after racking up 11 goals across the Avalanche's previous series wins against Nashville, St. Louis and Edmonton. He had 14 shots across 73 shifts and nearly 61 minutes of ice time before beating Vasilevskiy on the power play.
And given that Tampa Bay was up 1-0 in the game and coming off a period in which it had outshot the Avalanche 17-4, it mattered even more in terms of momentum.
Colorado outshot the Lightning 33-22 for the rest of regulation and through overtime and never allowed Tampa Bay to get a two-goal edge that had translated to so much extra energy in its Game 3 victory.
MacKinnon is now second in the league in playoff goals this season, trailing only Edmonton's Evander Kane, who had 13 before the Oilers were swept in the Conference Finals.
Kuemper Bounces Back
It was everything you'd want in a goaltender duel.
And to the delight of Colorado fans, Darcy Kuemper won it.
Chased from the crease in Game 3 after allowing five goals, the 32-year-old veteran of 299 regular-season starts turned in a strong bounce-back effort, stopping 37 of 39 shots.
He was particularly good in a frenetic first period in which the Lightning peppered him with 17 shots but beat him just once after just 36 seconds.
A soft goal on what appeared to be a routine backhander by defenseman Victor Hedman gave Tampa Bay a 2-1 lead heading into the third, but Kuemper steadied himself again to make 10 saves in the final period and three more in OT.
It was his 16th victory in 28 career playoff starts and his ninth of the current run with the Avalanche, who turned to backup Pavel Francouz when Kuemper was injured during Game 1 against Edmonton and missed the remainder of the series with the Oilers.
Kuemper made 20 saves in Colorado's 4-3 OT win in the opener against the Lightning, then stopped 16 shots to record his second career playoff shutout in Game 2.
Avs' Power Play Continues to Torment Bolts
This just in: The Avalanche are good on the power play.
Colorado cashed in on one of two opportunities with the man-advantage on Wednesday night to boost its overall clip to 34.5 percent for the playoffs and a ridiculous 46.2 percent since this series started on June 15.
MacKinnon's goal on the power play at 5:17 of the second period stemmed Tampa Bay's early momentum, evened the game at 1-1 and was the Avalanche's sixth in 12 opportunities before one failure to convert later in the game.
It's been a recurring issue throughout the playoffs for the Lightning, who've allowed 11 goals on 29 chances (62.1 percent penalty kill rate) through their last 10 games in series against Colorado and the New York Rangers. Contributing to the problem, in that span, Tampa Bay has won just 38.8 percent of shorthanded faceoffs.
Colorado Comebacks a Trend in the Playoffs
If you feel like you've seen this before, it's because you have.
In these playoffs, the Avalanche have been remarkably resilient.
Wednesday's win, during which they'd trailed 1-0 early and 2-1 heading into the third period, marked the seventh time in this postseason run in which they won after trailing at any point.
And it's been happening when it matters most: elimination games.
The Avalanche trailed 3-2 in the third period in Game 4 of their first-round series against Nashville before winning 5-3. They were down 2-1 heading to the third in Game 6 against St. Louis before winning 3-2. And they trailed both 3-1 and 4-2 against Edmonton before rallying for the OT victory that bounced the Oilers in Game 4.
Kadri's game-winner wasn't in an elimination game, but it does give Colorado a 3-1 series against a defending Cup champion for the first time since 2000 and the sixth time in league history. The team with the 3-1 lead won each of the previous five times. Overall, teams up 3-1 in the final round are 35-1, with only the Toronto Maple Leafs rallying (from 3-0 down) in 1942.
"That was a huge win. A resilient win," Kadri said. "I've been waiting for this my whole life. I figured it was time to join the party."