TAMPA — Tampa Bay Coach Jon Cooper just wanted to see Colorado on its heels, desperately chasing the game, as the Lightning had in the first two contests of these Stanley Cup finals. In Monday night’s Game 3, back home in a buzzing Amalie Arena, Cooper got his wish — and it changed the complexion of the series.
The Lightning flipped the script in a dominant 6-2 win, punishing a Colorado squad that was coming off a near-perfect 7-0 victory in Game 2. The Avalanche still holds a 2-1 lead in the best-of-seven series, but the two-time defending champion seized the momentum heading into Wednesday’s Game 4 on its home ice.
“Tonight was a full team effort,” said Lightning center Anthony Cirelli, whose first-period goal got the hosts on the board. “Every line contributed in some way. . . . No one cares who is scoring the goals; we just go out there and everyone is trying to do their job.”
The Lightning was expected to be the more desperate team — a loss would have left it on the brink of a sweep. But it rallied despite an early stumble, boosted by an extended replay review — and it made Tampa Bay the first team to win a Stanley Cup finals game after losing by at least seven goals in the previous game in more than 100 years (1919).
“This was pretty much a must-win game for us, and we played like it,” Lightning captain Steven Stamkos said.
The night wasn’t all good news for the Lightning. Star Nikita Kucherov was injured late after a crosscheck by Colorado defenseman Devon Toews and did not return. Cooper did not have an update on his status after the game. Defenseman Victor Hedman called the play that sent Kucherov to the dressing room “dangerous.”
The Avalanche, the faster team in the first two games, struggled to find any rhythm in the offensive zone and committed uncharacteristic turnovers that led to scoring chances for the hosts.
A shaky performance in goal — Avalanche starter Darcy Kuemper was pulled midway through the second period after yielding five goals — also will be a concern for the Western Conference champs.
Things couldn’t have started much better for Colorado when Valeri Nichushkin scored less than five minutes in. But an extended replay review determined the play was offside. A few minutes later, Gabriel Landeskog got the visitors on the board on the power play. It would be the last time Colorado led Monday night.
The Lightning scored the next three goals and welcomed a return to form of goalie Andrei Vasilevskiy, who struggled mightily in Game 2. He made a handful of jaw-dropping saves, robbing Colorado forward J.T. Compher twice in the opening 25 minutes alone. Vasilevskiy, who finished with 37 saves, looked like the stout goalie the Lightning needs to complete its three-peat.
Cirelli tied the score at 1 with a goal in front, slipping the puck past Kuemper as the Lightning started to pick up the pace. Forward Ondrej Palat scored with 5:06 left in the first period to give the Lightning its first lead of the series. It was Palat’s team-leading 10th goal of the playoffs.
Tampa Bay forward Nicholas Paul, who was barely able to move after getting shoved into the boards in the first period, gave the Lightning a 3-1 lead less than two minutes into the second.
The Avalanche cut its deficit to 3-2 when Landeskog scored his second power-play goal of the game at 4:43 of the second, but the Lightning quickly shut the door. Stamkos sent the hometown crowd into a frenzy at 7:52. Left all alone in front, he beat Kuemper to make it 4-2.
Forward Pat Maroon scored shortly after coming out of the penalty box for a 5-2 Lightning lead, putting a backhander past Kuemper and ending the goalie’s night after five goals on 22 shots. Backup Pavel Francouz made his Stanley Cup finals debut and allowed Corey Perry’s goal late in the second as his only hiccup.
Colorado, which had all the momentum after two promising wins to open the series, will have to find a way to rebound on the road.
“They didn’t hang their head after losing Game 2, and we’re not going to tonight,” Colorado center Nathan MacKinnon said. “Good or bad, we’re not going to trade our spot with anyone in the world. . . . We feel good about our team.”
The Lightning halved its deficit despite playing without center Brayden Point, who missed the morning skate. Cooper did not elaborate on Point’s condition. Point suffered a lower-body injury during a Game 7 win over Toronto in the first round and didn’t play again until Games 1 and 2 of the finals.
Colorado was without forward Andre Burakovsky, who was injured in the second period of Game 2. Colorado Coach Jared Bednar said Monday morning that Burakovsky was day-to-day and had yet to arrive in Tampa. He scored the Game 1 overtime winner and recorded another goal Saturday before leaving with an injury.