Tampa Bay Lightning keep three-peat hopes alive with Game 5 win vs. Colorado Avalanche

Tampa Bay Lightning keep three-peat hopes alive with Game 5 win vs. Colorado Avalanche

Published June 25, 2022
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The Tampa Bay Lightning’s three-peat bid remains alive.

After a tough Game 4 loss in which a too many men on the ice infraction was missed, the two-time defending champion Lightning won 3-2 Friday night to prevent the Colorado Avalanche for clinching the Stanley Cup on home ice.

Instead, the series will switch back to Tampa’s Amalie Arena on Sunday (8 p.m. ET, ABC), with the Avalanche still holding a 3-2 series lead.

“You’re down in the series, the Cup’s in the building, a great environment for the home team and how do you show gamesmanship? You do everything they just did,” Lightning coach Jon Cooper told reporters about his team’s effort.

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The Lightning got a 35-save performance from goalie Andrei Vasilevskiy, another clutch goal from Ondrej Palat, a rare goal from Jan Rutta and a rare power-play goal to edge Colorado.

“We talked about it today that we didn’t have a choice,” captain Steven Stamkos said. “This was do-or-die for us. Sometimes, you get caught looking ahead a little bit and this group did a great job of focusing on the present.”

The Avalanche were even called for a too many men on the ice penalty late in the game, forcing them to defend rather than press for the tying goal.

The Avalanche had outscored the Lightning in the first period by a combined score of 6-1 in the first two games of the series. But the Lightning led 1-0 on Friday, thanks to Rutta’s first goal of this year’s playoffs on a slap shot that got through goalie Darcy Kuemper.

Colorado tied the game at 5:07 of the second period when Vasilevskiy couldn’t handle Cale Makar’s floating, deflected shot and the puck landed in the crease for a tap-in by Valeri Nichushkin. It was Nichushkin’s fourth goal of the series and ninth of the playoffs.

Tampa Bay, which was stopped on its two first-period power plays and had one power-play goal in the first four games, finally connected on a 4-on-3 power play at 8:10 of the second period with Makar being called for tripping.

The Lightning moved around the puck well, and Stamkos faked a shot and passed back to Nikita Kucherov, who scored his eighth playoff goal and first of the series.

“I didn’t love that call just because there was no intent there,” Avalanche coach Jared Bednar said of the penalty on Makar. “I don’t think he was checking that guy. He just looked to me like he just tripped over his stick. It’s a tough one.”

Makar tied the game at 2:31 of the third period with a fluky goal after Vasilevskiy made the original save, but the rebound went in off Erik Cernak’s skate.

But Palat gave Tampa Bay the win at 13:38 with his 11th goal of the playoffs.

He was left alone in the slot and took a pass from defenseman Victor Hedman, who was down low in the Avalanche zone.

“I was just trying to get open, get lost a little bit,” Palat said. “I saw Heddy. He saw me. It was an easy shot for me.”

The Lightning overcame a 3-2 deficit in the first round to beat the Toronto Maple Leafs, and they rallied past the New York Rangers in the conference final after losing the first two games on the road.

“As good as it feels to extend the series, we realize how hard we had to work to get that tonight, and we’re going to have to replicate that at home,” Stamkos said.

The Avalanche lost in Game 5 to the St. Louis Blues in the second round with a chance to clinch at home, but they won Game 6 on the road. They’re 8-1 on the road in the playoffs.

“Guys have been digging in on the road,” Bednar said. “We’ve seen in the regular season. We’ve seen it really step up in the playoffs. Guys come in hungry and ready to play.”  

Makar would have been the leading candidate to win the Conn Smythe Trophy as playoff MVP if the Avalanche had clinched the championship Friday night.

But if the Lightning can come back and win the series, Palat would get serious consideration.

Seven of his 11 goals have been scored in the third period. Three of them have been game-winners, including two scored in the final two minutes of regulation.

“He plays with some of the best players in the world every year,” Cooper said of the pending unrestricted free agent who has 12 career playoff game-winning goals. “He’s always the third guy talked about on his line, but if you ask the other two players on his line, they would talk about him maybe the most.

“He’s a great complement to skill players, to checkers, to wherever you need him. He just does his job and he gets rewarded for it because of his effort.”

Owner Jeff Vinik flew the Lightning’s entire full-time staff to Denver to cheer on the team. “He’s a treasure. That guy is gold,” Cooper said of Vinik. … Injured Lightning forward Brayden Point and Avalanche forward Andre Burakovsky sat out again. … Fired New York Islanders coach Barry Trotz told NHL.com that he won’t go behind the bench this season so he can spend more time with family. He had been in the running for the Winnipeg Jets job.