Game 1 of the 2022 Stanley Cup Finals was a home-and-away thriller, with the Colorado Avalanche winning a 4-3 overtime game against the Tampa Bay Lightning.
Game 2 was… not as exciting, with the Avs quickly taking a lead and then spilling it en route to a 7-0 win.
The series is 2-0 Colorado as the clubs head to Tampa for the next two games. Here’s what we learned on Saturday night and how it will impact the rest of the series.
‘D’ is for ‘dominate’
What else can you say, really?
Colorado dismantled Tampa Bay in Game 2. The Avalanche were better at everything from 5-on-5 to special teams, goaltending, offense, defense, battles, runs – you name it, Colorado excelled at it. It was shocking, in a way, to see the Lightning appear so bewildered. There was no time Tampa Bay seemed to turn a corner and try something – anything – to stop the bleeding.
The Avalanche kept pushing. The Lightning never pushed back.
What does this mean for the defending champions as this series moves into their territory? Has Tampa Bay’s confidence been shaken? Or do the Lightning just don’t have the legs to keep up with Colorado? They wouldn’t be the first team in these playoffs to realize that. Even Connor McDavid had his struggles. The Avs are now 14-2 in the playoffs and have a plus-33 goal differential.
Tampa Bay needs its own stars to grow. Nikita Kucherov and Steven Stamkos were not visible enough. Neither did Victor Hedman. Andrei Vasilevskiy isn’t getting much help, but his struggles are a big part of the Lightning’s problems.
The Avalanche roll while the Lightning falters. Will this momentum change with the series? We will find out soon. -Kristen Shilton
The Game Trends Flop 2
The unusual nature of this Game 2 loss for the Lightning cannot be overemphasized.
They were 9-2 in Game 2 of a series dating back to 2020, the start of their consecutive Stanley Cup run. During that 11-game stretch, they had never allowed more than three goals in a game. Andrei Vasilevskiy had a .938 save percentage in those games; against Colorado in Game 2, he allowed seven goals for a .774 save percentage.
But there was another big difference between the Lightning in those 11 games and this one: their starts. The Lightning have scored the opening goal in nine of those 11 games. In those playoffs, the Lightning were 6-1 when they scored the first goal. So getting on the board early could have made a big difference here.
Instead, their departure was a disaster. After a good first quarter from their line of control, defenseman Erik Cernak fumbled the puck at the blue line. Then the Lightning returned the puck to their own end twice, while the referees let a pitfall call on the Avalanche against Alex Killorn. Then, defensemen Ryan McDonagh took a hook penalty just 1:01 from the start of the game, giving the second-best power play in the playoffs (31.3% efficiency) a chance to cook.
It was 1-0 Avalanche on Valeri Nichushkin’s goal at 2:54 of the first period, and they were gone. –Greg Wyshynski
Cale Makar scores his second goal of the period to give the Avalanche a 7-0 lead.
too much depth
Colorado’s depth overwhelms Tampa Bay. It’s not that Nathan MacKinnon, Cale Makar or Gabriel Landeskog aren’t doing their part. They just don’t everything the damage.
Avalanche support personnel are.
In Game 2, Valeri Nichushkin was arguably (or perhaps unquestionably) Colorado’s best player. He was an offensive force, scoring two goals and breaking through Tampa Bay defenses to score nearly a few more. Andre Burakovsky was all over the Lightning after scoring the first goal of the night. Josh Manson scored the rush. Darren Helm scored one on a breakaway.
These aren’t the big stars Colorado is counting on to defeat the two-time defending Stanley Cup champions (yes, Makar scored twice in Game 2, but Colorado was already leading 5-0 by then) . It’s better for the Avs that they don’t need these top players to dominate frequently. The longer Colorado continues to shut down Tampa Bay’s top skaters and receives fine contributions from every line, the better.
Colorado brought Andrew Cogliano back to the roster on Saturday, but it’s still unclear if Nazem Kadri will be available in the Finals. The Avalanche will continue to rely on their depth in his absence, and those players have stepped up so far. Avs coach Jared Bednar said before Game 2 that he prioritized keeping Burakovsky in the top six and that it paid off. Those kinds of instincts for knowing when to elevate players — like Bednar did by putting Nichushkin on the team’s front row — will continue to play a major role in Colorado, keeping Tampa Bay hot on its heels. — Shilton
There’s really only one way the Lightning can slow down the Avalanche’s offense and that’s to own the puck more than they can handle. That would mean fewer chances for Colorado forwards and more action in front of goaltender Darcy Kuemper.
Instead, the Avalanche had a 60-28 advantage on shot attempts in Game 2. Kuemper’s shutout came with few (if any) dangerous chances.
The harbinger of that dominance: The Avs’ first line of Gabriel Landeskog, Nathan MacKinnon and Valeri Nichushkin didn’t allow the Lightning a shot attempt in 8:43 of ice time at even strength.
Meanwhile, Steven Stamkos had a shot on goal and Nikita Kucherov didn’t attempt a shot in the game. –Wyshynski
Off and running
Colorado’s transition game is giving Tampa Bay fits.
Colorado generated a half-dozen Grade A chances in the first period alone — and a Josh Manson goal — on odd runs. It starts with great play in the neutral zone, where the Avalanche are aggressive: they interrupt plays, steal pucks and make quick passes that propel their light-footed skaters in the direction of Andrei Vasilevskiy.
Colorado has defensemen (i.e. Manson) who love to join the race and know exactly when to do so. Darren Helm’s goal is also a good example of this, creating his own odd man chance simply by anticipating when to make the right call and going for it. The Avalanche are not one to hesitate. That’s how they’ve been successful all season. Colorado skaters are so fast, not only on their skates, but in their decision making. There is a level of anticipation that skaters have for each other as a game develops. Colorado is fully in sync no matter who has the puck, allowing it to slip behind the (often undressed) Lightning.
Obviously, Tampa Bay will have to adapt if they want to return to Denver for Game 5 (and beyond). The question is how. Colorado did this to the teams for three rounds. There are miles of video to review. But seeing him live on the ice was another story. The Avalanche’s confidence should rightly skyrocket now too, which will only make it that much harder for the Lightning to contain. — Shilton
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