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Vasilevskiy’s OT effort not enough as Avs take 3-1 series lead over Bolts

Alex Walworth | The Scrum Sports

Heading into Game 4 of the Stanley Cup Final, the Tampa Bay Lightning and Colorado Avalanche each faced a must-win scenario on the heels of back-to-back lopsided contests, including a 6-2 Lightning win in Game 3. The Bolts and Avs each received good news before puck drop, as Nikita Kucherov was in the lineup after getting dinged up in Game 3, while Nazem Kadri returned to Colorado’s lineup for the first time after leaving Game 3 of the Western Conference Finals with an injury.

Unfortunately for the Lightning, Kadri’s return couldn’t have come at a worse time for them or a better time for the Avs. As a result, Colorado is on the verge of the third Stanley Cup in franchise history while Tampa Bay is on the brink of seeing their three-peat hopes collapse.

Kadri’s seventh goal of the postseason at the 12:02 mark of overtime lifted the Avalanche to a 3-2 win over the Lightning at Amalie Arena, putting them up 3-1 in the Stanley Cup Final with a chance to close things out Friday night in Denver. Both goaltenders put on a clinic, as Darcy Kuemper rebounded from getting pulled in Game 3 to allowing just two goals on 39 shots in the win. On the other end, Andrei Vasilevskiy put forth a valiant effort, but it wasn’t enough despite turning aside 34 of 37 Colorado shots. While the Bolts controlled the action early on, the Avs owned the advantage in puck possession more and more as the game went on, and that was even more evident once the game eventually went to OT.

Cirelli strikes early

Starting the night with the line of Brandon Hagel, Alex Killorn, and Anthony Cirelli paid immediate dividends for Tampa Bay as they pounced on the Avs with a relentless effort. Following a pair of shots and a scramble in front, the puck ended up on the stick of Erik Cernak. Cernak let a shot loose, catching Kuemper in the mask and knocking it off. As the puck fell to the ice, Cirelli immediately jumped on the rebound and scored, putting the Bolts up 1-0 36 seconds into the game. Under normal circumstances, a whistle would immediately blow, but if there’s an immediate scoring chance, play continues. As a result, Cirelli’s goal, his third of the playoffs and second of the series, was a legal play.

Not only did Cirelli’s goal provide an early spark, it also was the fastest goal to start a Stanley Cup Final game in 16 years.

Creating shots at one end, blocking them at the other

Nick Paul earned the Lightning’s best chance early on when he picked Nathan MacKinnon’s pocket and raced in. Kuemper came up with a huge save, keeping the Avs in it. After getting pulled in Game 3, Kuemper looked very sharp in the opening period. While the shot attempts were even among the two teams at 20-20, the Lightning did a great job of blocking most of Colorado’s attempts and preventing them from getting on net. Steven Stamkos also found himself with a tremendous look from the slot, but Kuemper snagged it out of the air with his glove. Tampa Bay was unable to take advantage of a late power play, but ended the period with a 17-4 edge in shots on goal, including 15-2 at 5-on-5.

The power play continues clicking for the Avs

The Avs began the second period with a few quality looks, as Nathan MacKinnon, Cale Makar, and Artturi Lehkonen each had solid chances, but Vasilevskiy turned them all aside. Soon after, Hedman took an interference penalty leading to Colorado’s first power play of the night. The Avalanche took advantage, putting together some crisp puck movement leading to Landeskog tapping it in at 5:17. Even though it looked like it bounced off MacKinnon’s skate, the goal felt inevitable as they looked sharp throughout the power play, and it resulted in their sixth power play goal of the series and a 1-1 score.

Soon after, Hedman created an opportunity off the rush that drew a hooking penalty by Bowen Byram, leading to another power play chance. The Bolts only mustered two shots on goal despite some solid puck movement on the man-advantage.

Hedman makes up for his earlier penalty with a huge goal

Hedman’s earlier interference penalty led to the Avs tying the game on the power play, but he more than made up for it at the 10:42 mark of the period. Collecting a pass from Jan Rutta, Hedman wound his way through the neutral zone and over Colorado’s blue line. Winding his way into the right circle off the rush, he unleashed a backhand shot that elevated just over Kuemper’s right pad and into the far side of the net, putting the Bolts up 2-1 on his third of the postseason.

Despite falling behind, the Avalanche maintained some late pressure, ending the second period with a 17-9 shot advantage in the period despite trailing 26-21 in shots on goal through 40 minutes.

Unfortunately for the Lightning, Cernak and Cirelli both left the game with injuries in the middle period. Cirelli’s injury looked particularly worrisome as he awkwardly fell on his right arm, throwing his glove off and heavily favoring it as he skated off the ice and went straight to the locker room. While both players returned to the bench for the third period, Cirelli made it back to the ice while Cernak didn’t see another shift for the rest of the game

Colorado notches a rare opposition 5-on-5 goal in Tampa

With 2:53 gone in the third period, the Avs tied the game after a crazy bounce in front of the Lightning net. Darren Helm put a shot on net that Vasilevskiy kicked aside. Nico Sturm jumped on the puck and chipped it towards the net, where it bounced off of Andrew Cogliano and past Vasilevskiy, tying the game 2-2. The goal energized Colorado, as they kept up the pressure over the next few minutes. Sturm’s tally was the first 5-on-5 goal scored by an opposing team in Amalie Arena since Toronto in Game 6 of their first round series against the Bolts.

The Avs continued to push the pace of the game as the period wore on, as it looked like the Lightning were just hanging on. The bounces continued to not go their way as Kucherov rang a shot off the goal post, which was promptly followed by Stamkos coming up with a big shot block at the other end. Eventually, the Bolts created a couple of solid looks, one of them off the stick of Ryan McDonagh after he jumped up into the play.

Over the final five minutes, both teams began locking things down, playing a tight-checking game that also featured a couple of plays that should’ve resulted in penalties going both ways. By this point, the officials had decided to swallow the whistles and let them play. The Bolts began putting on some pressure with the line of Paul, Corey Perry, and Ross Colton, but they weren’t able to find the back of the net in the final minute, as this game headed to overtime. From the Lightning’s perspective, the late push they made in the third period was nice, but the Avalanche generated more quality chances in the final 20 minutes of play.

The Avalanche swarm in overtime, but Vasilevskiy stands tall

Most of the time, you see teams playing conservatively in overtime. That wasn’t the case in this extra period, as both teams looked to create chances. However, it was the Avalanche who controlled the action throughout overtime. Despite the extra hockey, Colorado found an extra gear, which was scary to watch if you’re a Lightning fan. Logan O’Connor nearly ended it with a breakaway chance, but Vasilevskiy came up with a massive save. Moments later, Devon Toews rang one off the post. The Lightning’s top line of Stamkos, Kucherov, and Ondrej Palat had a somewhat lengthy shift in the Avs’ zone, but couldn’t muster a high-quality chance. Valeri Nichushkin led a rush, feeding Landeskog, but Vasilevskiy stood tall.

Byram nearly ended it, but fired one off the crossbar with Vasilevskiy out of position. Seconds later, Josh Manson’s slapshot got plucked out of the air by Vasilevskiy. At the other end, Hagel created a chance for the Lightning off the rush that caught Kuemper in the mask. Just over halfway through overtime, the shot attempts were 13-7 for the Avs while the shots on goal were 8-3 for Colorado.

Kadri finishes it off in strange fashion for Colorado

Catching a tired group of Lightning players on the ice, Kuemper fed Lehkonen, who skated into the neutral zone and found a streaking Kadri through the Lightning’s zone. He split McDonagh and Mikhail Sergachev, cut to the net, and roofed a shot past Vasilevskiy top shelf. However, it got caught in the t-bar in the back of the net, so it was tough to tell in real time if the puck had gone in, causing a delayed reaction on the ice. Once everyone realized what had happened, the Avalanche celebrated an unusual ending to an entertaining hockey game.

More controversy after the game

However, that wasn’t the only part of this goal that caused everyone to take a second look. After the game, Lightning head coach Jon Cooper answered only one question in his post-game press conference, carefully choosing his words before making a cryptic reference that this loss was tougher to deal with than any other during the Bolts’ previous two Stanley Cup runs. Soon after, Twitter was ablaze over the fact that the Avalanche had too many men on the ice for Kadri’s goal.

Yep, it’s pretty clear that Colorado had six men on the ice and should’ve been whistled for a penalty. However, the call was missed, play continued, and Kadri scored. There’s nothing that anyone can do about it now. Ironically, the Lightning benefited from a similar call a year ago in Game 7 of the Eastern Conference Finals against the New York Islanders.

Sometimes the breaks go your way, and sometimes they don’t.

These two teams return to action Friday night from Ball Arena in Denver for Game 5. Puck drops at 8 pm EST on ABC.

Our Three Stars of the Game

1st Star: Nazem Kadri – Scored the overtime winner in his first game of the series after returning from injury

2nd Star: Victor Hedman – Notched a goal in the second period in just over 30 minutes of ice time

3rd Star: Andrei Vasilevskiy – Turned aside 34 of 37 shots, including several in overtime to keep the Lightning in it.

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