The Blitz gave the Avalanche too much room through the neutral zone. Colorado used its speed to support the Tampa Bay defense. And goalkeeper Andrei Vasilevskiy wasn’t quite himself.
In the end, a first period in which they fell two goals behind was too much for the Lightning to overcome in a 4-3 overtime loss in Denver on Wednesday.
Despite twice coming from a two-goal deficit and killing a late penalty before Andre Burakovsky’s winner went 1:23 into overtime, the Lightning dropped Game 1 of the Stanley Cup Finals by digging too big an early hole and had spent a lot of it catching up the night playing.
Despite a lengthy layoff after beating Edmonton in the Western Conference Finals, Colorado started out with the strongest squad than the Tampa Bay team that clinched a six-game win over Rangers just four days ago.
Colorado rode its forecheck to odds of 15-8 in shots and 10-3 in chances in the first period. They netted three and took a 3-1 lead in the first half.
Two goals 1:36 apart seemed to trickle through Vasilevskiy as the Avalanche quickly took a 2-0 lead.
Colorado generates speed on ice from its blue line. Defender Bowen Byram ran deep into the Lightning Zone before passing back to Mikko Rantanen on the first goal in the left circle. Rantanen’s shot went under Vasilevskiy’s left arm and Gabriel Landeskog pushed the puck over the goal line to put Colorado in play after just over seven minutes.
Less than two minutes later, Valeri Nichushkin smashed Vasilevskiy under the glove with a shot from the slot after a turnover at the lightning blue line.
The Avalanche added a 5-on-3 goal later in the half, marking the first time Vasilevskiy had conceded more than two goals in the first half of a playoff game.
Class: C minus
Here’s how we ranked the rest of the Flash’s performance in Game 1:
Two Man Disadvantage
No sooner had Nick Paul struck to put the Lightning back on target in less than eight minutes of the first half when the Avalanche immediately grabbed the momentum.
Colorado once again used their speed to their advantage as Nathan MacKinnon drew a penalty on Mikhail Sergachev as he attempted to separate Sergachev and Anthony Cirelli. Just 27 seconds later, Cirelli was penalized for tripping Cale Makar just outside the lightning blue line, giving the Avalanche a two-man advantage of 1:33.
Tampa Bay held Colorado at bay for a time when Pierre-Edouard Bellemare blocked a Rantanen shot from the center, Ryan McDonagh got in the way of a Makar shot and Vasilevskiy parried a right block against a MacKinnon one-timer from the left circle .
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But the Avalanche ultimately conceded the two-man advantage when Artturi Lehkonen scored from the right circle after a backdoor tip from a Rantanen shot to extend their lead to 3-1, with 2:29 remaining in the first.
As they have done throughout the postseason, the Lightning showed they can’t stop in the second half, scoring two goals in 48 seconds.
Nikita Kucherov set up the first after criss-crossing Ondrej Palat as he entered the Colorado zone at speed. Kucherov played a nice backhand pass to Palat’s racquet, which tipped him out of the circle past Darcy Kuemper to make it 3-2 at 12:51 of the second period.
Sergachev then equalized through the traffic with a wrist shot from the right spot, off either post and into the net.
The Lightning precheck was relentless during this period, winning battles and returning pucks to their defenders, who netted them. Vasilevskiy was better too, stopping MacKinnon’s one-timer from the right circle and then knocking the puck off Nico Sturm’s and JT Compher’s stick on breakaways.
In his first game back after missing 10 with a lower body injury, Point played on a line with Ross Colton and Nick Paul and the top power play unit.
But in another role, Point resembled the player that teammates call their engine. He pushed the defense back by taking the puck and using it to move ice up, particularly on the power goal, and finished with an assist and a takeaway in 17:59.
Point began the sequence leading to Paul’s goal and switched directions when he crossed the blue line into the Lightning zone on the back check. He passed the puck to Victor Hedman, who slammed it onto the ice. Paul hit Erik Johnson to the puck, played the puck off his racquet and then hit the other side of the net.
In the third period, Point shared two Colorado players and drew a penalty on Logan O’Connor with just over 14 minutes to go, giving his team a chance to continue with the 3-point tie.
All for free
The Lightning averted a disastrous end at the end of regular time when Pat Maroon was penalized for delaying the game for kicking the puck out of his own zone with 1:24 left.
Tampa Bay made several plays down the stretch that helped kill the penalty kick. Vasilevskiy stopped a Landeskog shot from the right circle. Victor Hedman blocked a MacKinnon shot from the rush. Vasilevskiy stopped a Byram wrist shot and Makar’s shot at the buzzer was blocked by a skidding Sergachev.
But it was all for naught as Burakovsky scored the winner just over a minute after a turnover from Sergachev in the neutral zone. Hedman blocked Compher’s first shot from the slot, but the puck kicked to Nichurshkin in the left circle and he played a nice pass to Burakovsky, who fired from the right circle.
Class: D, to drain
The Tampa Bay Lightning lose the opening game of the Stanley Cup Finals after an overtime goal by Colorado Avalanche’s Andre Burakovsky.
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