Something is best for sure.
In an exciting opening game of the Stanley Cup Finals, Andre Burakovsky closed the show with a brilliant feed from Valeri Nichushkin to give the Colorado Avalanche a 1-0 lead with a 4-3 overtime win over the Tampa Bay Lightning on Wednesday night to bring ball arena.
Burakovsky’s winner came into the bonus frame a minute and 23 seconds after the Blitz killed what had been perpetrated by a late penalty – and after Patrick Maroon nearly scored after stepping from the box.
While Burakowski was the hero, it was more fitting that Nichushkin created the winner. The lesser-vaunted star and floating unrestricted free agent was brilliant from start to finish, hitting once, scoring two points and finishing with six shots in 11 tries. Probably the most influential skater from an offensive standpoint, Nichushkin tormented the Lightning in his 19 minutes.
Colorado also had goals from captain Gabriel Landeskog and Artturi Lehkonen, while Darcy Kuemper made 20 saves on his return to Avalanche’s net.
Burakovsky and Nichushkin, who make the difference for the Avalanche, may have deviated from consensus expectations, but the game followed a somewhat predictable script on several levels.
Proving that the rest versus rust debate mattered less than the harrowing nature of suddenly playing at altitude, the Avalanche jumped all over the Lightning early and scored twice in the first 10 minutes. Those goals repeated a problematic pattern (but not one he didn’t break) for Lightning goaltender Andrei Vasilevskiy, who conceded 16 of his 43 total goals (or 37 percent) in the four Game 1s Tampa Bay played en route back has the Stanley Cup final.
Tampa was able to net before the end of the half when Nick Paul slipped past Kuemper but was two goals down after the opening frame after Mikko Rantanen set up Lehkonen for that power-play marker.
The Lightning took back much of the game to start the second period and were rewarded with two goals, including an equalizer.
The rebound began with a brilliant two-on-two dissection of the league’s best defensive pairing of Nikita Kucherov and Ondrej Palat.
It was Kucherov training Devon Toews to charge as the Lightning forwards overlapped in their attack while Palat sneaked up behind Cale Makar to make the tap-in.
Mikhail Sergachev leveled the game 48 seconds later by finding a seam through traffic from the point with his now-patented half snapper.
For the most part, however, the Lightning spent the evening cushioning the Avalanche attack, which was the type of game situation many had prepared for.
Aside from the overtimes, Colorado overtook the Lightning in every third and put heavy pressure on Vasilevskiy with a 38-23 lead in goals. They also generated a total of 78 looks, accounting for 57 percent of total shot attempts, and forced 25 blocked shots from Lightning defenders, many of which were critical.
But to their credit, the Avalanche ended up with more blocked shots than the Lightning — and more than Kuemper saved — forcing the opponent to earn what few looks they had.
What wasn’t as expected, if you’re willing to leave out Vasilevskiy’s Game 1 track record, was how quickly the Avalanche were able to turn decent looks into goals. Both the Landeskog and Nichushkin markers seemed avoidable for Vasilevskiy, who turned one of his worst periods of the postseason in the opening frame.
Just as surprising might have been how quickly Colorado spit out the lead again.
But Game 1 was, in many ways, the perfect first act in what could be a long and memorable series.
We rarely see the top two teams clash in the Stanley Cup Finals, let alone the kind of matchup that pits Dynasty against Despair.
Colorado’s victory once again positions the Lightning to demonstrate that bulletproof determination in Game 2, or more importantly, when the series moves to Tampa Bay.
While there’s no guarantee that we’ll see these two teams trade blows over the course of six or seven games, the Avalanche’s Game 1 win seemed to set the stage.
And we should all consider ourselves lucky that the best possible series on paper seems to live up to expectations.
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