Heralded as a dream Stanley Cup final between the two-time defending champion Tampa Bay Lightning and the Western Conference juggernaut Colorado Avalanche, the first game of the series surpassed all expectations: Andre Burakovsky, who won in overtime, gave the contenders the lead over the current holders.
History will remember this game as a hot fight, but it is already clear that Avalanche’s advantage in speed and how Lightning, in turn, responds to a counterattack, will determine the outcome of the series.
Colorado’s fast pace is its defining characteristic, and it was brought to the attention of Tampa Bay head coach John Cooper, who pointed out that his opponent is the fastest team in the leaguewhile playing at an extreme pace. They are the funniest team to watch in the NHL and are often associated with their super fast gear in Nathan McKinnon or Cale Makar’s flashy videos.
It went beyond a spectacular game on Wednesday night: the Avalanche got the little things right, they made the Lightning make some losses (17-4 differential), outplayed the champions 38-23, and their dominance paid off in both aspects of the game. the game.
You can attribute three of the Avalanche’s four goals directly to their pace advantage. Colorado took control in the early stages of the game, rushing forechecks and forcing rushed exits. Bowen Byram arrived early this postseason and the 21-year-old has proven himself to be a conscientious shutdown defender as well as top-pair offensive hits. Bayram joined the attack, gave the puck to Mikko Rantanen and cautiously continued to move towards the net, attracting the attention of Ryan McDonagh. There was a free shooting lane for Rantanen when Tampa Bay’s stalwart defenseman Anthony Cirelli was caught looking at the puck and the puck leaked through Wasilewski’s pads, where Gabriel Landeskog beat Erik Cernak for a tie-in.
Colorado’s speed forced Tampa Bay to make several untimely losses, a notable example of which was the second goal. Valery Nichushkin, who was a threat in Game 1, led the pre-check by putting pressure on Zak Boghosyan. Bogosian batted the puck off Viktor Hedman, but as Landeskog rushed down, Hedman passed to Nick Paul, who couldn’t handle the puck as Makar got close.
McKinnon followed the pinching Makar, found the loose puck and sent it to Nichushkin, who waited unattended in the slot. Vasilevskiy was beaten through the wicket, a save he usually makes, but you can’t blame him when the Avalanche were forced to leave and landed a well-placed shot in a key spot.
Nichushkin, McKinnon and Landeskog beat their opponents 19-3 in a 5-on-5 game, outplaying the Lightning 6-1 and controlling 93.89 percent of expected goals. Trick with natural characteristics. This lane can be impossible to suppress, especially if Lightnings make mistakes in their zone.
Burakovsky’s overtime victory was also a by-product of Avalanche’s speed melting Lightning’s composure. Mikhail Sergachev, who is playing his best postseason hockey, shot a bouncing puck across the center of the ice and J.T. Compher parried it off. Comper’s initial shot was playfully blocked by Hedman, but there was no one to lift the trailers. The puck ricocheted to Nichushkin, who crossed Burakovsky in favor of the winner, while Chernak and Nikita Kucherov barely got into the frame.
Tampa Bay overcame inner grief after a devastating first-round loss in 2019 and was known for its easy-going demeanor, befitting a champion throughout the postseason. For at least one night, the Avalanche shook the Lightnings and robbed them of their defining qualities.
During the 2022 postseason and throughout stretches of the regular season, the Lightning adapted a counterattacking style against teams with superior ball possession and shot count. It worked against the Maple Leafs and couldn’t have done better against the Panthers. Theoretically, Tampa Bay can adapt to any style of play and probably knows they have to win the series with their goaltending, power play and counter-attacking ability.
Alex Killorn tried to drop Brandon Hagel on a breakaway in the third minute of the first period, but the puck was rebounded. It was a smart strategy as it resulted in Tampa Bay’s first two goals – the second was scored by Sergachev with a well-placed shot that Darcy Kemper had to stop.
Paul temporarily stopped Avalanche’s onslaught as a result of some opportunism. Logan O’Connor lost the puck battle to Hedman, who promptly threw the puck across the ice. This caught Byram and Eric Johnson off guard as Paul raced past the Lightning duo and then steered the puck past Kemper. This went against the flow of the game, but may have served as a template for the Lightning to advance offensively.
McDonagh blocked the shot and immediately hit Kucherov with an exit pass, paired with Ondrej Palat. The Colorado forwards were late to bounce back in a 2-on-2 scenario, and Kucherov made an incredible move against Devon Toews before finding a crushing Palat for Tampa’s second goal.
It’s not exactly a hopeless proposition for the Lightning to play against a team that has superior pace and shot-making advantage, but it will take more impressive individual effort in the rush to keep the streak close if the first game portends future results.
Tampa Bay is used to having a big margin of error, largely due to the heroism of world-class goaltender Andrey Vasilevsky. Vasilevskiy is on a different level than the players in his position, and he is arguably the most tenacious player in all North American men’s sports. And no offense to the 2020 Stars or the 2021 Canadiens, but the 2022 Avalanche is by far the most talented team the Lightning have faced during their dynastic run.
On Wednesday night, it became apparent that Vasilevskiy needed to be near-perfect for the Lightning to make up for the Avalanche’s superior speed, and reigning trophy winner Conn Smythe had a night beyond his standards.
Speed kills, and the Avalanche has a habit of making its opponents look like they’re gliding through quicksand. Jared Bednar and Cooper will make adjustments accordingly, but it looks like the Avalanche’s speed advantage, combined with how well the Lightning counters and how well the goaltender holds, will determine how the rest of the dream finale should play out.
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