DENVER — Cale Makar and the Colorado Avalanche weren’t too keen on looking back at the smoldering controversy over how Game 4 ended in overtime.
More important was the prospect: a chance to win the franchise’s first Stanley Cup title since 2001. Even ahead of their home fans, where ticket prices have soared to over $1,300 for an upper tier seat.
In Friday night’s Game 5, Colorado has a chance not only to dethrone two-time defending champion Tampa Bay, but potentially to kick-start its own dynasty. behind a core of young, dynamic players like Makar
“It’s going to be the most difficult thing we’ve had so far,” said Makar, whose team is leading 3-1 this season Best of seven series and boasts a 3-1 mark in close-out games this postseason. “We have to expect that they obviously bring everything they have, because life is at stake. We just have to be ready.”
The Lightning were unhappy with how things ended in overtime on Wednesday night. Nazem Kadri, who injured his thumb, scored the winner with a shot that slipped under goalkeeper Andrei Vasilevskiy’s right arm.
Tampa Bay’s Complaint: The Avalanche seemed to have too many players on the ice.
A day later, Lightning trainer Jon Cooper softened his stance.
“It’s unfortunate, but there’s water under the bridge now,” Cooper said. “It should be a damn good Game 5.”
All Colorado needs is a win in three tries — two at home — for its third Stanley Cup title since moving from Quebec to Denver in 1995-96. The Avalanche conquered Florida in their inaugural season, earning their second title in 2001 with a Game 7 home win over the New Jersey Devils.
Back then, Hall of Famer forward Joe Sakic led the charge on the ice.
Now, as General Manager, his fingerprints are all over this fast-flying team. He watched five players he brought in just before or during the season score five points in Game 4 to equalize and win. Kadri was acquired by Sakic in a deal with Toronto in 2019.
Sakic assembled this squad around playmakers like Makar, captain Gabriel Landeskog, Mikko Rantanen and Nathan MacKinnon. They were a big reason why this team is 15-3 in these playoffs and about to knock off the champions.
“You can see they’re hungry,” said Bryan Trottier of the Hockey Hall of Fame, who won six Stanley Cup titles as a player and another with the Avalanche as an assistant coach in 2001. “Landeskog have been in the league for a long time, MacKinnon have been in the league for a long time and now they’re getting a taste and are about to do something pretty exciting.”
But victory #16 won’t be easy. This time of year is rare.
“They’re probably preaching, ‘You’ve never been here. They’ll be tight and that’s fair,” said MacKinnon, who scored his first goal of the series on Wednesday. “But we will be ready to go. We’ve been under great pressure in all the playoffs and all season.”
This is a proud Lightning crew that has bounced back before. They were trailing 2-0 in the Eastern Conference Finals against the New York Rangers before rallying. They also trailed Toronto 2-3 in the first round.
“If I know one thing about this group, it’s that we respond well to adversity,” said Tampa Bay defense attorney Victor Hedman. “We are a resilient group. We believe in what we have.”
Avalanche goaltender Darcy Kuemper bounced back Wednesday with a 37 save performance after being drawn in Game 3. He also had an assist for the winner when he sent the puck to Artturi Lehkonen who passed it to Kadri. According to NHL statistics, Kuemper became the first goaltender in league history to record an assist in the OT of a Stanley Cup Finals game.
“Great awareness from Kuemps,” said Landeskog.
Game 4 wins for the 15th time this season The Avalanche rallied for victory after falling behind in the third. That total (11 in the regular season, four in the playoffs) is the third highest single-season finish in NHL history. The record belongs to the Anaheim Ducks, who had 22 in the 2014-15 season.
“Our guys did a good job staying focused on our things and that’s what helped us succeed,” said Avalanche coach Jared Bednar. We will continue with that.”