A historic tipping point?
Colorado Leads the Series 3-2
Andrei Vasilevskiy allowed two goals 37 shots for the victory. He played well again tonight. He still has not played his best game in this series, though, and that’d give me sleepless nights if I were Tampa Bay’s opponent.
15:23 TB Rutta (1), (Perry, Sergachev)
5:07 COL Nichushkin (9), (Makar, MacKinnon)
8:10 TB Kucherov (8), (Stamkos, Perry)(PP)
2:31 COL Makar (8), (Toews, Nichushkin)
13:38 TB Palat (11), (Hedman, Sergachev)
Ondrej Palat and Vasilevskiy were the game’s first and third stars.
I fully confess I was anticipating tonight to be a funeral the way the Lightning looked in OT of Game Four. Putting aside the blown too many men call on Kadri’s game winning goal, the Lightning just looked out of gas and like attrition had finally caught up to them with the injuries to Cirelli and Cernak and countless others. I fully expected Colorado to pounce on a Lightning team with not much gas left playing at altitude with their building behind them. But, like almost everything else in this series, tonight did not follow script and the Lightning have taken hold of the pen in an attempt to write a historic comeback.
Let’s be very clear here about what we’re looking at. The Lightning have allowed two regulation goals in each of the last three games. Their defending is where it needs to be and I’d say, on balance, they’ve been the better team the last three games. The only reason Colorado isn’t down 3-2 in this series right now is the hellaciously good puck luck they’ve gotten through five games. Don’t get me wrong, I understand the team with the possession advantage should get the majority of puck luck. I’ve never seen a team get every single bounce the way Colorado seemingly has through five games including the goal off of Cernak’s skate that tied it at 2-2 tonight following on the tail of two similar bounces for both of Colorado’s regulation goals in Game Four. I’ve also never seen a team get every single blown call go their way the way Colorado seemingly has through five games, including a blown icing call that Nick Paul clearly beat out by a mile that led to the Avalanche’s first goal tonight. A lesser team that Tampa Bay, mentally, folds in the face of what’s transpired through five games. The Lightning just keep coming, and they’ve now turned the series to a sixth game at home in Tampa Bay with an opportunity to push it to the brink.
My theory of the case in this series has always been the Lightning needed to get Colorado out to six or seven games. Two reasons. One it’s not possible for Colorado to play at the pace they played in Game Two late in the series. As their speed advantage gets nullified by fatigue, they become more beatable. So the trick for the Lightning was always how to engineer enough early series wins to get the Avs into deeper waters. Two, this is a young Avs team that hasn’t faced much adversity in these playoffs and has not handled adversity well in past playoffs. Now I’ll add in a third element. At some point the puck luck has to start evening out in this series. It’s seemingly not possible for a full series to be played with none of the bounces going one team’s way. Oh, and a fourth… Andrei Vasilevskiy starting for you in a winner take all single elimination Game Seven. That’s the prize the Lightning get if they can get Game Six, and it’s a prize so tantalizing surely the players in front of him will run through a plate glass window to get it for him. (And a fifth… Darcy Kuemper is really not that good.)
So tonight’s Third Period felt like it might’ve been the tipping point of the series and with the opportunity to skate the Cup in their own barn on the line, the Avs were not the better team in the final frame. They got some puck luck on the tying goal, but the run of play and the balance of the forechecking pressure was Tampa Bay’s until Palat’s breakthrough goal. That speaks volumes for me, and now a little kernel of doubt is planted in Colorado’s minds. Get Game Six and then we’re going to really have some fun.