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Avalanche puts a touchdown on Lightning, takes command of Stanley Cup finals

Colorado center Darren Helm, left, celebrates his goal against the Tampa Bay Lightning with center Andrew Cogliano during the second period of Saturday's Game 2 of the Stanley Cup finals. (John Locher/AP)
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DENVER — The Colorado Avalanche delivered a dominant performance Saturday in Game 2 of the Stanley Cup finals, punishing the two-time defending champion Tampa Bay Lightning, 7-0, and grabbing a firm hold of the best-of-seven series as it shifts to Florida on Monday.

Colorado seized a 2-0 series lead, following Thursday’s overtime thriller with a beatdown, its potent attack coming in waves that the Lightning could not answer. After Game 1, it appeared very little separated these teams. After Game 2, the gap looked more like a chasm.

By the time the first period ended, the Avalanche held a 3-0 lead and deafening chants of “We want the Cup! We want the Cup!” rang throughout Ball Arena. They would only grow louder as the night wore on.

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Colorado skated circles around the once-unflappable Lightning. Each time the Avalanche entered the offensive zone, there seemed an inevitability about things, as if a goal could come at any moment — and often did. And the times Colorado didn’t score? It was inches, if not centimeters, away.

“I feel like we played to our identity to a T tonight,” defenseman Cale Makar said. “... Guys were able to capitalize.”

The Avalanche nearly doubled up the Lightning on shots, putting 30 on the usually stout Andrei Vasilevskiy (23 saves). The seven goals were the most Vasilevskiy has allowed in a playoff game.

Tampa Bay sent just 16 shots Darcy Kuemper’s way, and he stopped them all.

Colorado forward Valeri Nichushkin continued his strong postseason, leading the way early with a pair of goals as the Avalanche built a 5-0 lead entering the third. Makar took over the scoring from there, scoring twice in the final frame.

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The Avalanche heads east with all the momentum as it seeks its first Stanley Cup since 2001.

“We have to man up and be better,” Tampa Bay captain Steven Stamkos said. “I have full confidence in this group.”

If there is a silver lining for the Lightning, it’s that Tampa Bay has been here before — earlier in these playoffs, in fact. The New York Rangers took a 2-0 lead on the Lightning in the Eastern Conference finals before the reigning champion rallied to win the next four.

The Lightning’s Game 3 hopes will largely ride on Vasilevskiy.

Tampa Bay has struggled to contain Colorado’s speed, and the netminder has seemed slow to open games, yielding three goals in the first period of both contests. His six goals allowed in the first period are the most through two finals games since George Hainsworth gave up seven in 1936.

After the tight affair of Game 1, the adjustments made in Game 2 clearly favored the host, which continued to play fast yet deliberate. Tampa Bay wanted to focus on weathering the early push. It failed.

Nichushkin opened the scoring with his power-play goal in front 2:54 into the game. Forward Andre Burakovsky, who scored the overtime winner in Game 1, started the play with a nice pass from the right wing boards right to Nichushkin’s stick in front for the chip-in past Vasilevskiy’s right pad.

Nichushkin has been one of the best players on the ice during the finals and also assisted on Burakovsky’s overtime winner.

Colorado’s lead doubled after defenseman Josh Manson led a staggering odd-man rush with 12:05 left in the first period, scoring from the right circle. All three Lightning forwards were caught below the red line, opening up time and space for the Avalanche to attack.

Burakovsky made it 3-0 with a rebound goal in front at 13:52 of the first. He has four goals against Vasilevskiy in his past three playoff games against him. He almost made it five with his wide-open breakaway attempt late in the first, but Vasilevskiy made the save to keep it a 3-0 game entering the first intermission.

Burakovsky was injured in the second period and did not return. Colorado Coach Jared Bednar said Burakovsky will need to be evaluated further, and his status for Game 3 was uncertain.

Nichushkin scored his second goal of the night 4:51 into the second period after he took a feed from Mikko Rantanen between the circles and beat Vasilevskiy. Center Darren Helm scored to make it 5-0 at 16:26 of the second. Makar put the final two exclamation points on the night, scoring shorthanded 2:04 into the final frame and then on a power play at 9:49.

Despite Burakovsky’s status, the Avalanche did get some positive health news with the return of forward Andrew Cogliano, who played in his first game since he suffered an upper-body injury during Game 4 of the Western Conference finals. Cogliano had surgery on one of his fingers and had been slowly getting back on the ice.

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