TAMPA, Fla. — The Colorado Avalanche are Stanley Cup champions for the first time since 2001 after beating the Tampa Bay Lightning 2-1 in Game 6 of the Cup Finals on Sunday.
Artturi Lehkonen scored the Avalanche’s winning goal in the second period. Darcy Kuemper recorded 20 saves in the win.
Tampa Bay made their third straight Cup final appearance after back-to-back championships in 2020 and 2021. The Lightning would have been the first team in the NHL to win three straight trophies since the New York Islanders had won four straight from 1980 through 1983.
To claim victory, the Avalanche needed another comeback to win their franchise’s first championship in two decades. They had also played from behind in two of their previous three series winning games.
Steven Stamkos scored his 11th goal of the postseason 5 hole on Kuemper early in the first half to give the Lightning a 1-0 lead. Tampa Bay overtook Colorado 10-8 by 20 minutes.
The Avalanche pushed back in the second. Nathan MacKinnon equalized with a one-timer from the left circle past Andrei Vasilevskiy.
MacKinnon’s second goal of the series came from a late penalty, and Tampa Bay struggled with not calling the game dead when Nick Paul touched the puck. It was not possible to check whether Paul had possession of the ball, so the goal was a 1-1 draw.
Colorado kept firing at Vasilevskiy until Lehkonen finally broke through to give the Avalanche a 2-1 lead. This was Colorado’s first regular lead of the series since Game 3.
The Lightning trailed early in the third period but the Avalanche pressed with a quick 5-0 advantage on shots on goal. Colorado finished the game with a 30-23 lead.
Vasilevskiy held his own against Colorado’s onslaught in the final frame to give Tampa Bay a chance to level. Lehkonen’s goal would count as the winner to make the Colorado Cup champion.
The Avalanche had previously failed to eliminate Tampa Bay. Colorado secured a 3-1 lead in Game 5 on Friday but failed to knock out the defending cup winners in a 3-2 loss.
Before that, The Avalanche mostly controlled the series. Colorado secured a 2-0 lead over Tampa Bay with a 4-3 overtime win in Game 1 and a 7-0 win in Game 2. The Lightning responded with a lopsided 6-2 win in Game 3 but failed to last. Colorado lost 3-2 in overtime in Game 4.
Tampa Bay made a bold attempt in Game 5 to silence Colorado’s electric home crowd and extend the streak once more. The Lightning fed on their own fans in Game 6 but once again failed to stop Colorado’s aggressive attack.
When Colorado last won the trophy 21 years ago, current general manager Joe Sakic captained the team and symbolically presented the trophy to Ray Bourque. This time Sakic watched from above as the club he had made finished its work.
The Colorado Cup victory was the culmination of a dominant postseason streak in which the Avalanche won 16-3 on aggregate and won both their first-round series against Nashville and the Western Conference Finals against Edmonton.
It also fitted into a theme for the Avalanche to heave the hockey goblet onto enemy ice. Colorado has been great on the road in every playoff, finishing with a 9-1 mark and completing all four of their streak wins away.
“It feels like I’m in disbelief,” MacKinnon said. “It’s hard to describe, but seeing all these warriors fight… it just feels amazing.”
Colorado defenseman Cale Makar, who last week won the Norris Trophy as the league’s top defenseman, won the Conn Smythe recognized as the postseason’s most outstanding player after Game 6.
“Find a Cale Makar somewhere,” said Captain Gabriel Landeskog when asked how teams can emulate what Colorado has accomplished. “We’re just a really difficult team to play against.”
Tampa Bay had a tougher road back to the cup finals, falling behind in every series except Florida in the second round. Trailing 3-2 to Toronto in the first round and 2-0 to the New York Rangers in the Eastern Conference Finals, the Lightning found a way past every opponent.
The Lightning also played much of the postseason without top forward Brayden Point. He suffered a lower body injury in Game 7 against Toronto and missed over a month before returning for Game 1 and Game 2 of the Cup Final. Still not himself, Point would not return to the series.
Colorado also had injury concerns. Kuemper, Nazem Kadri and Andre Burakovsky all missed several games with various ailments (Burakovsky was eliminated from the cup final after sustaining a hand injury in Game 2). Kadri’s broken thumb – suffered in a boarding incident with Evander Kane during the conference finals – was particularly bad. He made a comeback in Game 4 of the cup final and scored the overtime winner.
The Avalanche handled their problems with an impressive depth that was a cornerstone of their overall success. The Avalanche had 10 different players to score at least one goal in the cup final and 17 scored a point or more (including Kuemper).
The goalkeeper duel was a hot topic ahead of the cup final and didn’t disappoint. Vasilevskiy bounced back from an underperforming in Game 1 (.895 SV%) and became Tampa Bay’s all-time top player from there.
Kümper has also survived adversity. He was pulled from Game 3 for allowing five goals on 22 shots, but Bednar returned to him for Game 4 to assist Pavel Francouz and Kuemper delivered his most complete performance of the playoffs (37 saves, .949 SV%) .
In the end, Kuemper had to make one more save than Vasilevskiy to deliver a trophy to Colorado.