DENVER (AP) — Andre Burakovsky scored a 1:23 in overtime and the Colorado Avalanche opened the Stanley Cup Finals Wednesday night with a 4-3 win over two-time champions Tampa Bay Lightning.
Burakovsky ended it after the Avalanche failed to score on a power play that usually started late when three-time champion Patrick Maroon put the puck over the glass. Burakovsky is one of only two Avalanche players to win the cup.
“He’s been playing well lately and deserves it,” said winger Mikko Rantanen. “He’s got a great shot and a nice game overall.”
The game probably wouldn’t have even reached OT if the Avalanche hadn’t killed big penalties that were 3 for 3 against Tampa Bay’s heavy power play. The final kill included a crucial save from goaltender Darcy Kuemper and a series of clears from Norris Trophy finalist defenseman Cale Makar.
An earlier strike got Colorado going, who opened the scoring on captain Gabriel Landeskog’s goal 40 seconds after Josh Manson’s penalty had expired. Manson — one of general manager Joe Sakic’s expensive trade-deadline pickups — more than made up for keeping the stick light with some big hits.
The Avalanche’s other deadline acquisition also kept his knack for scoring important goals. Artturi Lehkonen scored his third goal of the first half after Valeri Nichuskin scored the second as part of a dominant all-ice display.
“Huge X-factor,” said coach Ared Bednar. “He’s been doing this for us for a couple of years.”
Tampa Bay’s new signings also played a key role: Nick Paul passed Colorado defenseman Jack Johnson with a loose puck for a goal that limited damage and kept the defending champions in the game. Brandon Hagel, who was thrashed and a question mark, was hit by Landeskog to a loose puck, an uncharacteristic goal for reigning playoff MVP Andrei Vasilevskiy to surrender by letting the first shot sneak under his left arm.
In another example of what has made the Lightning the best team in the NHL over the past three years, they turned the tide in the second period with goals from Ondrej Palat and Mikhail Sergachev, 48 seconds apart. That set the stage for the first of many fantastic results in a series between evenly matched opponents.
“There are some positive signs for us in this game,” said Lightning coach Jon Cooper. “But the right team won the game, so trust them to pull it off.”
The arena has rocked since warm-up began for the city’s first Stanley Cup Finals game in 2001 — again last year, the Avalanche won the Stanley Cup, with Sakic serving as captain. Fans chanted, “We want the trophy!” throughout the run-up and at times throughout the game, which was a showcase of the high-quality hockey that was the standard all season.
Tampa Bay’s top scorer from each of the last two title runs was back, and center Brayden Point returned to play his first game since injuring his right leg a month ago.
Colorado has a series lead despite being without forwards Nazem Kadri (right thumb) and Andrew Cogliano (right hand), who were injured in a win over Edmonton in the Western Conference Finals last series.
The Avalanche also swept over Nashville in the first round, finishing off rival St. Louis in six before beating Connor McDavid and the Oilers. If anything, Game 1 against the Lightning showed that this series won’t be easy for either team.
I don’t think we gave them our best game by a country mile,” Cooper said. “To beat a team like that, we have to be better in ourselves.”
Follow AP Hockey author Stephen Whyno on Twitter at https://twitter.com/SWhyno
More AP NHL: and https://twitter.com/AP_Sports
Copyright 2022 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.