Lightning look like the upstarts in Game 1 loss to Avalanche

DENVER (AP) — The Tampa Bay Lightning weren’t the ones who looked like the two-time defending champions in Game 1 of the Stanley Cup Finals Wednesday night.

The Colorado Avalanche, playing for the first time in nine nights, sped up a 2-0, 3-1 lead in the first half by slapping pucks past otherworldly goaltender Andrei Vasilevskiy, who was averaging just 2.27 goals per game allowed.

“We weren’t our best in the first 10 minutes,” said Lightning forward Patrick Maroon. “We weren’t our best tonight. But I like the finish in our game.”

Well, except for the actual ending.

Colorado withstood the Tampa Bay rally, improving to 13-2 in those playoffs and going 4-3 through Andre Burakovsky’s goal 1-23 into overtime.

The winner came after a poor rally from Mikhail Sergachev, whose goal equaled to 3 in the second half.

Home sides have won 64 consecutive cup finals when leading by two goals or more, according to ESPN. The last team to lose a two-goal lead was the New York Rangers against Vancouver in 1994.

The Avalanche peppered reigning playoffs MVP Vasilevskiy with plenty of pucks in the first half and the Ball Arena rocked, those $1,000 tickets looked like bargains.

The Avalanche scored a whopping 65 goals in 14 playoff games to reach the Stanley Cup Finals – their 6.46 goal average was the best in the playoffs in 30 years – and they scored two more goals in the first 10 minutes of the first third.

The two-time holders’ pedigree was evident with Ondrej Palat and Sergachev scoring goals less than a minute apart in the second period, versus Darcy Keumper, who scored in his first game since March 31.

It stayed that way until 1:23 in overtime.

Lightning coach Jon Cooper insisted Vasilevskiy wasn’t to blame for the loss and suggested no one played better in a Lightning sweater than his goalie, who stopped 22 straight shots before Burakovsky’s winner eluded his left skate.

“Vassy obviously makes the difference,” Sergachev said. “He’s the best goalkeeper in the world. He’s our best player. So he’s a difference maker and he can steal games, he can win games alone. He almost made it tonight.”

According to NHL stats, Vasilevskiy conceded three goals in the first period of a playoff game for the first time in his career.

The Avalanche’s legs were both quick and fresh in their first game in nine days and their first Stanley Cup appearance in 21 years.

Add to that the height and attitude of the Avalanche, maybe a bit of choppy ice and definitely uneven play from Vasilevskiy, who allowed uncharacteristic goals like the one Valeri Nichuskin shot past him in the first half. That puck was the first to go through Vasilevskiy’s legs this entire postseason.

These Avalanche may be the newcomers, but they are undeterred by the prospect of having to dethrone the two-time defending champion to win the Lord Stanley’s Cup.

Her confidence, like the thin air in the Mile High City, is sky high.

“I mean, why not?” said captain Gabriel Landeskog, whose goal scored the opener after less than eight minutes of play. “We’re in the Stanley Cup final. We deserve this place. We put a lot of hard work into it. Of course we have a lot of respect for these guys – but not too much.”

Sergachev shrugged, implying that a lot of good things had happened, like coming back to tie it and skating evenly with the fast Avalanche for most of the night.

“It’s the usual thing. We lost Game 1 before,” Sergachev said. “It’s a series so we’re going to take a day off tomorrow and just chill, clear our heads and practice, go out to Game 2. So nothing changes for us. We’re still a confident group.”

Longtime Lightning captain Steven Stamkos said the key to Saturday night’s Game 2 wasn’t catching up and chasing the fast Avalanche.

“We’ll try to start better in the next game and play with the lead a bit,” he said. “This is a really good hockey team, they have some exceptional players who can play and will try to improve.”

Lightning coach Jon Cooper said his players now have a feel for how fast the Avalanche are playing and that will help them this weekend.

“They come out pretty strong. We hadn’t seen her in a while so it was nice to get a feel for it,” agreed Alex Killorn. “They’ve had some incredible players who are doing a lot of good things on the ice, but I think we understand exactly what they are.”

A formidable opponent that could very well keep the Lightning from becoming the first team to win three straight Stanley Cups since the New York Islanders won their fourth straight win in 1983.

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