Sports

Avalanche take over Stanley Cup Final with clinical precision in Game 2

DENVER—This was clinical.

Precision personified.

As lopsided as a blowout can possibly be.

One team won nearly every race and every battle, while the other seemed to be a step slow and often appeared to be discombobulated, struggling not only with getting to structure but also with making simple plays that are usually routine.

Right now, the Colorado Avalanche look like a well-oiled machine and this 7-0 drubbing of the two-time defending champion Tampa Bay Lightning on Saturday night at Ball Arena probably felt like a timeless classic in real time to head coach Jared Bednar.

It’s not every day a team can beat the best goalie in the world seven times.

Converted touchdowns simply aren’t commonplace: not on a sleepy night during the dog days of February, let alone Game 2 of the Stanley Cup Final.

The Avalanche reached warp speed quickly and this was an absolutely relentless attack, with no signs of slowing down anytime soon.

For the second time in as many games, the Avalanche were shot out of a cannon to start the game and their frenetic pace continued to force the Lightning into uncharacteristic mistakes with puck management.

This time, the Avalanche prevented the Lightning from pushing back and evening the score.

Was this an example of the coaching staff putting together a plan to combat what the Lightning did in Game 1?

“I don’t know about the perfect plan, but it was certainly as close to perfect of a game as you can get from your players,” said Bednar, quick to deflect credit. “Coming out of Game 1 we were dangerous offensively, but I thought there was another step to it for our group. So we evaluated that, we showed them some things and they did a nice job and on the defensive side of it we were way better (on Saturday). We were way better. It wasn’t even close.”

Not even close is a good way to describe it.

As a result, the Avalanche suddenly find themselves just two wins away from capturing the club’s first Stanley Cup since 2001.

But if you thought the Avalanche would be planning to put things on cruise control or start planning the parade route, you haven’t been following along this playoff joyride.

Avalanche defenseman Josh Manson was quick to dismiss a suggestion his team had the Lightning on the ropes or that they might be unnerved by what has transpired so far.

“You know what, this is a championship caliber team and I don’t think they get frustrated,” said Manson. “I think they’re patient. And they’ll adjust and they kind of let things go. I think that’s what’s made them so successful. So for us, we can’t think that we’re under their skin, we can’t think anything like that. We’ve just got to keep going. And just have that mentality that doesn’t stop.

“It feels good but the job’s not done, as they say.”

The job is not done by any stretch of the imagination, but the Lightning are going to have to find an entirely different level of play if they are going to regroup like they did in the Eastern Conference Final, when they overcame an 0-2 series deficit to win four consecutive games.

The harsh reality for the Lightning is that they must win four of the next five games to avoid being dethroned.

“In our room we have that humble mentality and that belief. I think belief is such a big thing,” said Manson. “We know that if we go out and play the way that we need to play, we have confidence in ourselves. We have belief in our game.”

For all of the talk about the Lightning having a decisive edge between the pipes, Avalanche goalie Darcy Kuemper is doing his part, finishing with 17 saves on Saturday to record the shutout — his first in 12 starts during these playoffs.

Kuemper saw a steady diet of Corey Perry around the blue paint—and the pair received coincidental minors at one point—but the goalie didn’t allow the Lightning forward to get under his skin or knock him off his game.

“He just likes to get to the net. That’s how he plays. He’s always played that way,” said Kuemper. “I just try to get out of there as best as I can.

“This was probably one of our best games in all the playoffs. We made some good adjustments from last game and really got to playing the way we want to. The guys were incredible.”

That’s an understatement.

The composite score in the series is now 10-3 and while this juggernaut offense is clicking right now, the more impressive development in this series surrounds the way the Avalanche have been defending — and limiting the high-danger chances for the Lightning.

“I feel like we played to our identity to a ‘T’ — obviously, we had some good goals and stuff like that. It was a little bit of a weird one,” said Avalanche defenseman Cale Makar, who scored twice and finished with four shots on goal. “Obviously, we’re getting opportunities but guys were able to capitalize, so that’s the good part.

“We know as a team that we get rewarded offensively when we play our best game defensively. So for us, it’s just coming to that kind of realization every single night. Like I said in a previous question, they’re obviously a great team. Their players are going to find ways to exploit you and we just have to be ready for that. They’re going to throw everything they have at us next game, so we just have to be ready, and ready to bring it back on them as well.”

One of the only negative developments for the Avalanche was the early departure of forward Andre Burakovsky, who contributed a goal and an assist in just 10 shifts and 7:51 of ice time before suffering an undisclosed injury.

On the flip side, Andrew Cogliano returned to the lineup after sitting out Game 1 with a broken finger and he quickly chipped in a pair of assists while also playing two minutes and 36 seconds while shorthanded.

The veteran winger was also quick to deflect a question about whether or not the Lightning were rattled by the speed the Avalanche are playing with — something that’s played a huge role in the outcome so far.

“I don’t know, I don’t know. I think we’re really focused on ourselves right now,” said Cogliano. “We’re just focused on our game and when we play like we did tonight, everyone leaves the rink feeling proud of themselves and it’s a great feeling. You can’t get caught up with what’s going on on the outside, with what other teams are doing.”

That approach has been serving the Avalanche well and you can be sure they’re going to do everything in their collective power not to stray from that.

This is the time of the year when many stats can be thrown out the window, but the Avalanche are a perfect 7-0 on the road in the 2022 Stanley Cup playoffs going into Monday’s game at Amalie Arena.

“They’re the defending Stanley Cup champions. They won twice, they know how to play, they know how to play at home,” said Cogliano. “This is going to be the biggest test for us.”

The good thing for the Avalanche is that they’ve made a habit of passing tests with flying colors—with Saturday night serving as the most recent example.

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