Substitute goaltender Brian Elliott didn’t flinch as he sat on the bench, perhaps because he knew what was going on in coach John Cooper’s head.
“Look, this is the playoffs and we’re here to win hockey games,” Cooper later said, knowing that at the time, the odds of winning that particular game were gone long before the final horn blew. “Vasi gives us the best chance to win the hockey game and he is our guy. He will be there for a couple of nights. No. He is the best goalkeeper in the world and we win together and we lose together.”
Two days later, that unshakable confidence was even more pronounced when Colorado coach Jared Bednar pulled Darcy Kemper after he conceded five goals in the game. 6-2 defeat this reduced the Avalanche’s lead from the two-time defending champions to 2–1 in the series to seven wins.
Colorado made a bet on two goaltenders entire postseason, but the uncertainty over who will start Game 4 on Wednesday night – and how to move forward – has been the biggest question for the powerful Avalanche. After all, their resentment was never a problem. It’s all about who’s online.
It’s familiar territory for Colorado, these questions are at the gate. Phillip Grubauer was long gone for Seattle, and last summer general manager Joe Sakic tried to solve that problem by buying Kemper in a deal with Arizona. If the problem persists, it could ruin the club’s hopes of ending the series after taking a 2-0 lead.
Asked what his decision was about Kemper or Pavel Francouz in Game 4 on Wednesday night, Bednar told reporters: “The same thing I always put into a decision” and chuckled a little.
Bednar admitted that Kemper “didn’t have a good night”. Then he sounded a lot like Cooper, the Stanley Cup double-ringed coach on his fourth trip to the Finals, with Bednar seemingly following.
“We win as a team, we lose as a team,” he said. “You can group it with everyone else. They just weren’t as good as they should have been.”
Bednar’s choice could tip the scales on the series. Of course, Vasilevsky also has the potential to turn the tide in favor of Tampa Bay. He was sensitive in Game 3, making 37 saves after conceding seven goals, the second time in his NHL career.
“You know he was going to come around and play well, and he played well,” Avalanche defenseman Josh Manson said. “We still played a lot in their zone. We still had chances.”
Vasilevskiy may return to the form that earned him the Conn Smythe Trophy as the best player in the playoffs last year and the Vezina Trophy as the league’s best goaltender in 2019. the face of the Lightning franchise and is well positioned to steal this series if need be, and he hasn’t even stolen a game against the Avs yet – when he could.
Kemper or Francoise? Or unlikely to do so. They took the Avalanche to the Finals with .897 and .906 save percentages, respectively, playing consistently, not spectacularly. They support a team that doesn’t miss a lot of quality chances because they play a lot with the puck and usually don’t let the opposition drive the game.
The second game was a perfect example of this. Manson called Kemper “hard as a rock” even though the Aws goaltender only threw 16 shutout shots and was rarely tested.
The tide turned drastically in Game 3 and Kemper conceded at least two goals that he would like to return. In true hockey fashion, the players blamed themselves for Kemper’s hook.
“Of course it was about us,” striker Mikko Rantanen told reporters. “Three A’s (chances) in the slot, so you can’t ask a goaltender to make every save when you give those chances.”
That’s true, but what worries Colorado is that the Avalanche beat the Lightning 107-71, including 39-32 in Game 3, and have a crushing loss and a tight overtime win sandwiched around that 7-game win: 0 to demonstrate this. .
Colorado’s chances of one Stanley Cup win depend on whether Kemper bounces back — or Francoise closes in — both are big ifs against a team that has won it all of the past two years with a goaltender who has been there before.
Follow AP hockey writer Steven Wyno on Twitter: https://twitter.com/SWhyno.
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