Colorado Avalanche win first Stanley Cup since 2001 with comeback win in Game 6

Colorado Avalanche win first Stanley Cup since 2001 with comeback win in Game 6

TAMPA, Fla. — The Colorado Avalanche are Stanley Cup champions for the first time since 2001 after beating the Tampa Bay Lightning 2-1 in Game 6 of the Cup Final on Sunday.

Artturi Lehkonen scored the game-winning goal for the Avalanche in the second period. Darcy Kuemper recorded 22 saves in the win.

Tampa Bay was making its third consecutive Cup Final appearance after back-to-back championships in 2020 and 2021. The Lightning would have been the first NHL team to win three consecutive Cups since the New York Islanders won four in a row from 1980. to 1983.

Earning the victory required another effort from the Avalanche to clinch their franchise’s first championship in two decades. They had also played from behind in two of their previous three tiebreakers.

Steven Stamkos scored his 11th playoff 5-hole goal on Kuemper early in the first period, giving the Lightning a 1-0 lead. Tampa Bay outscored Colorado 10-8 in 20 minutes.

The Avalanche pushed back in second. Nathan MacKinnon equalized with a one-timer from the left circle past Andrei Vasilevskiy.

MacKinnon’s second goal of the series came on a delayed penalty appeal, and Tampa Bay disputed that the play was not declared dead when Nick Paul touched the puck. Determining whether Paul had possession was not reviewable, so the goal was to tie the game, 1-1.

Colorado continued to spice up Vasilevskiy until Lehkonen finally broke through to give the Avalanche a 2-1 lead. It marked Colorado’s first regulation lead in the series since Game 3.

The Lightning trailed to start the third period, but it was the Avalanche who pressed with an early 5-0 advantage in shots on goal. Colorado finished with a 30-23 advantage in the game.

Vasilevskiy held off Colorado’s onslaught in the final frame to give Tampa Bay a chance to equalize, but Lehkonen’s goal would be the winner to make Colorado Cup champions.

The Avalanche had already failed once to eliminate Tampa Bay. Colorado took a 3-1 series lead going into Game 5 on Friday but couldn’t stop the defending Cup winners in a 3-2 loss.

The Avalanche mostly controlled the series before that. Colorado took a 2-0 lead over Tampa Bay with a 4-3 overtime win in Game 1 and a 7-0 thrashing in Game 2. The Lightning responded with a lopsided 6-2 victory in Game 3 but couldn’t survive Colorado in a 3-2 overtime loss in Game 4.

Tampa Bay produced a brave effort in Game 5 to silence the electric Colorado crowd and see the streak extended by one more game. The Lightning fed on their own fans in Game 6 but couldn’t stop Colorado’s aggressive offense another time.

When Colorado last won the Cup 21 years ago, current general manager Joe Sakic was the team’s captain, passing the Cup to legendary defenseman Ray Bourque in an iconic moment. This time, Sakic watched from above as the club he had made finished the job again.

The Colorado Cup win was the culmination of a dominating playoff streak in which the Avalanche went 16-3 overall and swept both their first-round series against Nashville and the Western Conference final against Edmonton.

It was also a theme for the Avalanche to hoist the hockey chalice onto enemy ice. Colorado was terrific on the road throughout the playoffs, finishing with a 9-1 mark and earning all four of its road series wins.

“I feel like I’m in disbelief,” MacKinnon said. “It’s hard to describe, but to see all these warriors fighting…it’s just amazing.”

Colorado defenseman Cale Makar, who won the Norris Trophy last week as the league’s top defenseman, received the Conn Smythe Trophy for playoff most outstanding player.

“Find a Cale Makar somewhere,” captain Gabriel Landeskog said when asked how teams can emulate what Colorado has achieved. “We’re just a very tough team to play against.”

Tampa Bay had a tougher road to the Cup final, falling behind in every series except its second-round sweep of Florida. The Lightning lost 3-2 to Toronto in the first round and 2-0 to the New York Rangers in the Eastern Conference Finals, but found a way to get past every opponent.

The Lightning also played much of the playoffs without top forward Brayden Point. He suffered a lower-body injury in Game 7 against Toronto and missed more than a month before returning for Games 1 and 2 of the Cup Final. Still not himself, Point would not return to the series.

Colorado also had injury issues. Kuemper, Nazem Kadri and Andre Burakovsky all missed several games with various ailments (Burakovsky was out of the Cup final since suffering a hand injury in Game 2). Kadri’s broken thumb – suffered during a boarding incident with Evander Kane in the conference finals – was particularly serious and required surgery. He pulled off a comeback in Game 4 of the Cup final and scored the extra-time winner.

The Avalanche persevered through their troubles with an impressive depth that was the cornerstone of their overall success. The Avalanche had 10 different players who scored at least one goal in the Cup Final and 17 scored a point or more (including Kuemper).

The goalkeeping game was a hot topic ahead of the Cup final and did not disappoint. Vasilevskiy rebounded from a lackluster performance in Game 1 (.895 SV%) to be Tampa Bay’s best player from then on.

Kuemper also overcame adversity. He was taken out of Game 3 for giving up five goals on 22 shots, but Avalanche coach Jared Bednar came back to him over substitute Pavel Francouz for Game 4 and Kuemper delivered his most complete performance of the playoffs (37 saves, 0.949 SV%).

In the end, Kuemper made enough saves to help deliver a cut for Colorado.

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