TAMPA, Fla. — Denver, Colorado is the hockey capital of the world.
The Colorado Avalanche are Stanley Cup champions for the first time since 2001 after defeating the reigning two-time defending champion Tampa Bay Lightning 2-1 in Game 6 of the Cup Final on Sunday.
Artturi Lehkonen scored the game winner in the second period. Darcy Kuemper notched 22 saves in the series-clinching victory.
The Lightning were seeking to become the NHL’s first team to win three straight Cups since the New York Islanders won straight from 1980 to 1983.
But their impressive came to an end on Sunday, but it took another come-from-behind effort from the Avalanche to score their first title in two decades. They had also rallied in two of their three previous series-clinching wins.
Steven Stamkos lit the lamp with his 11th goal of the postseason via 5-hole on Kuemper early in the first period to give the Lightning a 1-0 lead. Through the first 20 minutes, Tampa Bay outshot Colorado 10-8.
But the snow crew pushed back in the second. Nathan MacKinnon smashed a one-timer from the left circle past Andrei Vasilevskiy.
MacKinnon’s second goal of the Cup Finals came as Tampa Bay was whistled for a penalty. However, Colorado maintained possession of the puck, and scored instead.
Colorado continued to pour the pressure on Vasilevskiy until Lehkonen finally snuck one by to give the Avs a 2-1 lead.
The Avalanche dominated the third period to finish with a 30-23 edge in shots on goal for the game.
The Lightning trailed to start the third period, but it was the Avalanche who were pressing with a quick 5-0 advantage in shots on goal. Colorado finished with a 30-23 edge in the game.
The Avalanche had an opportunity to put Tampa Bay away in Game 5 on home turf Friday but suffered a 3-2 defeat.
The first two games of the series were dominated by Colorado with a 4-3 overtime win in Game 1 and a 7-0 rout in Game 2. However, despite outshooting the Lightning in Game 3, Tampa Bay defeated the Avs 6-2. In Game 4, the Lightning started off strong, but couldn’t restrain Colorado and wound up losing 3-2 in overtime.
Although Tampa Bay dug deep to stave off elimination for one more game, the Avalanche buried them for good in Game 6.
For Joe Sakic, it’s his third Stanley Cup win, but his first in the Avalanche front office as general manager. He served as the team captain for both the 1996 and 2001 teams and passed off the Cup to Hall of Fame defenseman Ray Bourque in one of hockey’s most iconic moments. This time, Sakic watched from above decked out in a suit as the team he developed got the job done.
Colorado’s Cup win was the culmination of one of the most dominant seasons ever seen in the NHL. The team’s 72 wins are tied for the most all-time in a single season. To top it off, the Avalanche went 16-4 in the playoffs, which included sweeps of the Nashville Predators (quarterfinals) and the Edmonton Oilers (Western Conference Finals) to bring home the coveted Stanley Cup.
The Avalanche were also nearly unbeatable on the road, finishing the postseason with a 9-1 record, and scored all four of its series-clinching wins away from home.
It fit a theme for the Avalanche as well to hoist hockey’s chalice on enemy ice. Colorado was terrific on the road all playoffs, finishing with a 9-1 mark and completing all four of its series wins away from home.
“It feels like I’m in disbelief,” MacKinnon said. “It’s hard to describe, but to see all of these warriors battle … it just feels unbelievable.”
Colorado defenseman Cale Makar, who won the James Norris Trophy last week as the league’s top defenseman, was awarded the Conn Smythe Trophy for the postseason’s most outstanding player. The 23-year-old Makar become the youngest defenseman to win the honor since Bobby Orr, who won the Smythe as a 24-year-old in 1972. Furthermore, Makar became just the fourth defenseman to win the Smythe since 2007, joining Scott Niedermayer (Anaheim Ducks), Duncan Keith (Chicago Blackhawks), and Tampa Bay’s Victor Hedman.
“Find a Cale Makar somewhere,” captain Gabriel Landeskog said when asked how teams can emulate what Colorado accomplished.. “We’re just a really hard team to play against.”
Tampa Bay had an impressive postseason run despite falling short in the Cup Final. They rallied from behind in every series minus its semifinal sweep of No. 1 seed Florida. The Lightning trailed 3-2 against Toronto in the quarterfinals and clawed back from a 2-0 deficit to send the New York Rangers packing to reach the Cup Final for the third consecutive season.
Like Colorado, Tampa Bay was bit by the injury bug. Brayden Point suffered a lower-body injury in Game 7 against Toronto and its best postseason scorer over the past two seasons would miss an entire month before returning for the first two games of the series against Colorado. However, after suffering a torn hip flexor, along with a reoccurrence of the LBI, Point would not return to the series.
The Avalanche lost several of their stars at various points in the playoffs. Kuemper, Nazem Kadri, and Andre Burakovsky, all missed multiple games. Burakovsky missed the final four games of the Cup Final with a hand injury suffered in Game 2. Kadri broke his thumb following a boarding incident with Evander Kane during the WCF, which required surgery. But miraculously he returned to action in Game 4 of the Cup Final and scored the overtime winner.
After periods of inconsistency, some called for Kuemper to be replaced by Pavel Francouz, who went 6-0 while Kuemper was out with a lower-body injury. He was pulled in Game 3 after allowing five goals on 22 shots, but Avalanche coach Jared Bednar never considered turning his back on his star goaltender. In Game 4, he delivered his most impressive performance of the playoffs, with 37 saves and a .949 save percentage.
And on Sunday, Kuemper had to be brilliant, and he was as he helped deliver Colorado another Stanley Cup championship.