DENVER — Colorado Chainsaw Massacre.
The Colorado Avalanche decimated the Tampa Bay Lightning in Game 2 of the Stanley Cup Finals Saturday evening, shutting out the reigning champions 7-0.
For the second consecutive game, Colorado scored three goals in the first period, but this time, were on cruise control from the start. The Avalanche have now scored a combined 33 goals since Game 1 of the Western Conference Final against the Edmonton Oilers.
Valeri Nichushkin and Cale Makar each scored two goals, Mikko Rantanen had three assists and Andra Burakovsky, Andrew Cogliano, and Alex Newhook all contributed with multi-point performances. Darcy Kuemper stopped 17 shots en route to notching the fourth Stanley Cup Final shutout in Avalanche history.
The Lightning were simply overwhelmed by the speed and forecheck of the Avalanche from the onset, constantly losing control of the puck and making bad reads that left Avalanche players in prime position to shoot on Andrei Vasilevskiy, who has coughed up 11 goals in the first two games of this series.
“They’re playing at an elite level right now,” Tampa Bay coach Jon Cooper stated. “Give them credit. We’re not. They’re two good teams. They’re just playing at a much higher level than we are right now.”
Lightning captain Stephen Stamkos made no excuses and said they have to step it up for Game 3.
“We have to man up and be better,” he admitted. “I have full confidence in this group.”
The domination began with Valeri Nichushkin, who scored two goals on the night. The right winger knocked in a pass from Game 1 hero Andre Burakovsky to give the Avs a 1-0 advantage on the powerplay.
“He’s a train for us,” Makar said of Nichushkin. “He’s such a hard-working guy; it shows on the ice, he’s so valuable for us in every single zone. Whether it’s just picking up speed in the neutral zone and getting that o-zone entry or helping out in the d-zone breakout wise, you see his offensive talent that he’s shown lately. He’s the full package.”
Colorado coach Jared Bednar also chimed in.
“He’s built for this time of year,” he said of his forward.
Josh Manson came through with a wrist shot that sailed past Vasilevskiy to make it 2-0.
Andre Burakovsky jumped on a juicy rebound for a 3-0 tally, but went to the locker room later on in the game after taking a puck to the inside of a glove. He was evaluated for an injury to his finger, but Bednar had no further update after the game.
Nichushkin got the second period off to a fast start as he one-timed a pass from Mikko Rantanen, who recorded his 50th career playoff assist, to score his second goal of the night and his eighth of the playoffs.
The action was just as one-sided as the first period as the Avalanche dominated offensively and bullied the Lightning defensively.
With 5:38 remaining in the second, Nichushkin had a chance for a hat trick, but Vasilevskiy made an all-time great glove save to prevent No. 13 from scoring on the backhand.
The Avalanche made it 5-0 with 3:20 left on the clock when Darren Helm, who won a Stanley Cup in 2008 in his rookie season with the Detroit Red Wings, snapped a shot over the glove of Vasilevskiy.
Corey Perry and J.T. Compher both went to the box after a quarrel by the Avalanche crease. The incident started when Perry cross-checked J.T. Compher on the arm, which led to the Avs winger wrestling him to the ice. Perry then subsequently jumped on Compher as the pair tussled. As they got up, Perry was seen putting weight on Compher’s ankle, which seemed like an intentional maneuver. Ultimately, both were sentenced to the sin bin. Compher was given a hooking penalty, and Perry was dinged for roughing and unsportsmanlike conduct.
Rantanen was sent to the box to start the third period for tripping Lightning captain Steven Stamkos. That, however, did not prevent the Avs from adding yet another insurance marker. Cole Makar took off on a breakaway and beat Vasilevskiy to extend the bloodbath.
But, wait. There’s more.
After Lightning winger Ondrej Palat was sent to the box for cross-checking, Makar scored his second consecutive goal after taking a pass from Rantanen and popped a scintillating shot over the glove of Vasilevskiy.
Despite giving up seven goals, Cooper said he never questioned pulling his goaltender out of the game.
“Listen, this is the playoffs and we’re here to win hockey games. Vasy gives us the best chance to win a hockey game. He’s our guy. He’s going to be there in a couple of nights. No. He’s the best goalie in the world,” Cooper said.
For the second consecutive series, the Lightning are down 2-0 and the Avalanche are two wins away from their first Stanley Cup championship since 2001.
Game 3 is Monday at 8 p.m. ET. at Amalie Arena in Tampa.