Avalanche chasing Stanley Cup greatness, but don't write off Lightning

Avalanche chasing Stanley Cup greatness, but don’t write off Lightning

DENVER– They’re chasing greatness. They’ve got a shot to do something that hasn’t been done since a legendary team did it in the 1980s.

No, not the Tampa Bay Lightning, who are trying to become the first team to win three straight Stanley Cup championships since the New York Islanders won four in a row from 1980-83.

The Colorado Avalanche.

With an overwhelming 7-0 win in Game 2 of the Stanley Cup Final at Ball Arena on Saturday, the Avalanche took a 2-0 lead in the best-of-7 series. They are 14-2 in the 2022 Stanley Cup Playoffs.

[RELATED: Stanley Cup Final coverage | Stanley Cup Final schedule]

Only four other teams have started the playoffs 14-2. Each won the Stanley Cup: the 1981 Islanders, the 1987 Edmonton Oilers, the 1988 Oilers and the 2012 Los Angeles Kings.

The Avalanche are on the verge of one of the top playoff runs in NHL history.

Since the playoff format began requiring 16 wins in 1987, the best record belongs to the 1988 Oilers at 16-2. Four teams are tied for the next-best record at 16-4: the 1993 Montreal Canadiens, the 1995 New Jersey Devils, the 1997 Detroit Red Wings and the 2012 Kings.

Game 3 is Monday at Amalie Arena in Tampa (8 p.m. ET; ABC, ESPN+, CBC, SN, TVAS).

“Our team just seems to be really focused, dialed in, and they’re hungry,” Avalanche coach Jared Bednar said. “They want to win, so they’re playing as hard as they possibly can every shift.”

After a 4-3 overtime win in Game 1, the Avalanche dominated Game 2 with their speed, keeping the pedal to the floor from start to finish.

They were superior all over the ice, in all phases and throughout the lineup, scoring four goals at even strength, two on the power play and one shorthanded. Eleven players had at least one point. Colorado led in shots 30-16 and shot attempts 60-29.

Vaunted goalie Andre Vasilevskiy gave up all seven goals for Tampa Bay, the most he’s allowed in his 100 NHL playoff appearances (95 starts).

Bednar called it “certainly as perfect of a game as you can get from your players.” lightning captain Steven Stamkos called it “totally not acceptable.”

“They’re playing at an elite level right now,” Lightning coach Jon Cooper said. “Give them credit. We are not.”

Write off the Lightning at your own risk. They have won 11 consecutive playoff series, and you have to go back only one round to find an example of when they came back to win a series in this situation. They lost Games 1 and 2 of the Eastern Conference Final to the New York Rangers at Madison Square Garden by a combined score of 9-4, then won four straight. They’re 7-1 at home in the playoffs.

“Listen,” Stamkos said, “people are going to be watching this game tonight and probably think this series is over, but we’re a very resilient group. We’re going to go back home here. We were in this position last round.

“Whether it’s 1-0 or 7-0 or 10-0, it’s a loss in the playoffs, and you’ve got to move on, man up as a team, as a person. Our team is going to do that. Let’s get back home in front of our fans, and let’s see what we’re made of.”

But the Lightning cannot afford to be nonchalant or complacent, thinking that because they’ve done it before they will do it again. The Avalanche have proven they can put them on their heels, pressure them into mistakes and take over the game completely. Oh, and they’re 7-0 on the road in the playoffs too.

“You’ve got to execute, you’ve got to be at your best to get the result we want, and that’s the bottom line,” Lightning defenseman Victor Hedman said. “You can’t rely on past experiences, just hoping that we’re going to win.”

Perhaps the most impressive thing from a Colorado perspective and the most distressing thing from a Tampa Bay perspective was the Lightning’s lack of pushback.

The Avalanche took leads of 2-0 and 3-1 in the first period of Game 1, and the Lightning came back to tie it 3-3 in the second. This time, the Avalanche took a 3-0 lead in the first period, extended it to 5-0 in the second and kept pouring it on in the third. The back-to-back Stanley Cup champions seemed…

Out of gas? Out of answers?

“The game got away from us early, and we have shown a propensity to push back for years,” Cooper said. “Tonight we didn’t. If this becomes a common theme in the series, it’ll probably be a short one. But I never doubt the guys in the room.

“Does it [stink] losing a game like that? For sure. We’re not used to it, and it doesn’t really happen to us. But is it going to happen at times? Yeah, it is. You just hope it doesn’t happen in the Stanley Cup Final.”

That fact that it did says a lot, though, doesn’t it?

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