After Disputed Goal, Avalanche on the Cusp of a Stanley Cup Win

TAMPA, Fla. – The recreation that ushered the Colorado Avalanche to the precipice of profitable their first Stanley Cup in over 20 years had ended a minute or two earlier, and the Hockey Hall of Famer at the again of the freight elevator at Amalie Arena stared straight forward because it descended the seven flights to ice stage.

His face betrayed no trace as to what he had simply witnessed – the puck that vanished, the confusion that dominated, the euphoria that adopted – or to what it meant to him, the man who assembled the juggernaut of these NHL playoffs.

Before Game 4 of the finals Wednesday night time, it was he, Joe Sakic, now the Avalanche’s common supervisor, who had scored the franchise’s most memorable objective this millennium. He ceded that distinction – fortunately, presumably – to Nazem Kadri, whose shot off the rush fooled everybody, together with Lightning goalie Andrei Vasilevskiy, the on-ice officers and a dwelling crowd in Tampa unaccustomed to silence.

When lastly noticed in the netting, the puck supplied affirmation not solely of Colorado’s 3-2 additional time victory but in addition of an overarching reality this collection, and on this postseason. The Lightning might need the bona fides and the tenacity of a two-time defending champion, however Colorado has been the superior staff.

The Avalanche have performed 18 playoff video games and received 15. They swamped Nashville, St. Louis and Edmonton – sweeping the first and third rounds – earlier than prevailing 3 times in opposition to the Lightning, twice in additional time, dominating each further intervals. Their velocity and talent and particular groups – seven targets to Tampa Bay’s one – have overwhelmed Tampa Bay, simply as Sakic had hoped they might be heading into the collection. On Wednesday, Kadri and 5 gamers acquired inside the final yr – and three forward of the commerce deadline, in Andrew Cogliano, Nico Sturm and Artturi Lehkonen – mixed for six factors on the tying and profitable targets.

Colorado can hoist the Cup with yet another win, as quickly as Friday night time in Denver, the place in the comforts of the mile-high altitude the Avalanche thumped the Lightning by 11-3 in Games 1 and a couple of.

“Obviously, they’re in all probability preaching, ‘They’ve by no means been right here; they’ll be tight, ‘and that is honest, “the Colorado star heart Nathan MacKinnon mentioned. “But we’ll be able to go. We’ve been nice beneath strain all playoffs, all season. ”

MacKinnon is appropriate, by all accounts. Perennial contenders, Colorado had not performed for the Cup since 2001, when Sakic scored the clinching objective in Game 7 in opposition to the Devils, or in the convention finals since 2002. This regardless of rolling to the Presidents’ Trophy final season, for having the NHL’s greatest file, regardless of boasting a feared assortment of expertise, together with MacKinnon, whose strides must be measured by a seismograph, ahead Mikko Rantanen and the Norris Trophy-winning defenseman Cale Makar, whose comparisons to Bobby Orr would possibly appear to be sacrilege in the event that they weren’t so putting.

Sometimes, although, in the grueling pursuit of a Cup, groups profit from luck, from happenstance and circumstance and from boundless ache tolerance: from dealing with lesser goalies in the first three rounds to Kadri’s surgically repaired proper thumb regaining sufficient operate to benefit his honining the lineup after a three-week absence.

“Just pondering I used to be completed after which having a sliver of hope, sitting right here proper now, it is form of surreal,” Kadri mentioned, including, “This is what I’ve been ready for my entire life just about.”

In Game 4 of their second-round triumph in opposition to St. Louis, Kadri scored a hat trick mere hours after receiving racist demise threats from followers for a collision that knocked Blues goalie Jordan Binnington out of the collection. In one other Game 4, on Wednesday, Kadri completed off a sequence that started with a candy go from goalie Darcy Kuemper – who, sensing the Lightning have been drained, had the consciousness to push the puck up ice – and roof the puck previous Vasilevskiy. Or so it appeared.

For a few seconds, nobody celebrated, in a second that evoked one other anticlimactic additional time game-winner from the finals, scored by Chicago’s Patrick Kane in 2010 to clinch the title over Philadelphia. Then Kadri began nodding, the bench began emptying and the Lightning began skating off the ice, their hopes for a third consecutive title in peril.

Even to succeed in this stage, they needed to outlast the league’s two highest-scoring groups, Toronto and Florida, and overcome a 2-0 collection deficit in opposition to the Rangers, all whereas beginning each collection on the highway. To prolong this one, the Lightning should stifle an unholy trinity of disappointment: shedding in additional time, at dwelling, on a objective they believed shouldn’t have been counted.

Walking into his postgame information convention, Tampa Bay Coach Jon Cooper seemed like he wanted a stiff drink, a hug or a while alone in a soundproof room with the officiating crew – or all three, actually. He took one query earlier than excusing himself, sounding defeated as he lauded his staff’s accomplishments in a salary-cap period that stifles would-be dynasties earlier than veering into a cryptic response that disputed the legitimacy of Kadri’s objective.

“This one goes to sting way more than the others,” Cooper mentioned, including, “You’re going to see what I imply while you see the profitable objective. And my coronary heart breaks for the gamers. Because we in all probability nonetheless must be taking part in. ”

As he reiterated Thursday, Cooper, a former lawyer, contended, primarily based on replays ricocheting throughout social media, that Colorado had too many males on the ice when Kadri scored – that MacKinnon lingered too lengthy, too removed from the Avalanche bench, when Kadri jumped on. The league, in a assertion issued Thursday morning by its division of hockey operations, mentioned that none of the officers thought of it a violation, and that the name was not topic to video overview.

Though he did say Thursday the staff should transfer on, neither time did Cooper point out, naturally, that the Lightning benefited from a comparable noncall final postseason, after they appeared to have had an additional participant on the ice for the objective that ousted the Islanders in Game 7 of their semifinal collection. In hockey, if not in life, these moments are likely to even out, and neither the interpretation of a rule nor the vagaries of a puck might reduce Colorado’s authority in additional time, when it almost scored on loads of different events.

According to Natural Stat Trick, the Avalanche have registered 75 extra whole photographs at even power than the Lightning. They have 11 extra high-danger scoring probabilities. They have harassed Tampa Bay by means of the impartial zone and between the circles and under the objective line.

This is how they’ve received all season, all postseason, and except Tampa Bay can summon one closing thrust – after which one other, after which one other – the subsequent time Sakic goes down an elevator to the ice, will probably be to elevate the Stanley Cup .

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