The Stanley Cup was in the building and just waiting to be paraded around the ice in Denver on Friday, but it had to be packed up and shipped back to Florida as the resilient Tampa Bay Lightning spoiled Colorado’s party to stay in the hunt for a third straight Stanley Cup title, beating the Avalanche 3-2 in Game 5.
Ondrej Palat scored with 6 minutes, 22 seconds remaining, while Andrei Vasilevskiy stopped 35 shots in front of a raucous crowd hoping to celebrate the Avalanche’s first championship in 21 years.
“That’s what good teams do — you find a way,” Lightning forward Corey Perry said. “Keep plugging along. This is fun. This is what hockey’s all about, different guys stepping up at different times.”
Game 6 is to be played in Tampa tomorrow morning, Taiwan time.
The Lightning trail the best-of-seven series 3-2.
“Listen, this is a huge challenge for us,” Lightning forward Pat Maroon said. “An exciting challenge, too. You’ve got to be excited for this challenge and embrace it.”
The Cup was all shined up and ready for the moment — almost beckoning to the Avalanche from the side, but it is back on the road for the Avalanche, where they are 8-1 so far in their playoff run.
“We have belief in our room that we can win every game we go out and play,” Avs defenseman Devon Toews said. “We feel like we had a decent game tonight, pretty good game. Obviously it wasn’t enough tonight.”
Nikita Kucherov and defenseman Jan Rutta also scored for the Lightning.
Valeri Nichushkin and Cale Makar had goals for Colorado.
Makar’s third-period tally bounced off the skate of Erik Cernak and through the pads of Vasilevskiy to tie it at 2-2.
That set the stage for Palat, whose shot slipped through the pads of Darcy Kuemper. It was Palat’s 16th career go-ahead playoff goal, which trails only Brayden Point (18) in franchise history.
“I thought I played it well, slid over,” Kuemper said. “It just found a little hole.”
Tampa Bay regrouped after an emotional Game 4 loss at home on a overtime goal from Colorado forward Nazem Kadri. The Lightning felt that the Avalanche might have had too many players on the ice on the winner.
A similar too-many-players-on-the-ice scenario unfolded on Friday and this time it was called.
With 2:43 remaining, the Lightning went on the power play and made it so that Colorado could not pull Kuemper until the final moments. They weathered the Avalanche’s late barrage.
Their resolve has impressed Lightning coach Jon Cooper.
His team improved to 3-0 this season when facing potential elimination games.
“The mental fortitude you have to have to not buckle in the environment we were just in and play the type of game they did, there’s a reason they’ve got a couple rings on their fingers,” Cooper said.
The Avalanche fans were out in full force — inside the building and outside at a nearby watch party.
“It’s not supposed to be easy and it’s not going to be easy,” Avalanche captain Gabriel Landeskog said. “We knew that coming into this. We knew that coming into tonight... Short memory in the playoffs and that’s what we’re going to do.”
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