Tampa, Fla. –
Colorado Avalanche has returned to the top of the hockey game after dethroning the two-time defending champion.
After a goal and an assist from Nathan MacKinnon, Avalanche won the Stanley Cup for the third time in franchise history and for the first time in more than two decades by beating Tampa Bay Lightning 2-1 in Game 6 of the last Sunday night.
This is the first title for this core group led by MacKinnon, captain Gabriel Landeskog, Mikko Rantanen and Cale Makar and it follows years of disappointment in the playoffs. Avalanche has lost in the second round of the past three seasons after being knocked out in the first round in 2018.
“It feels unbelievable,” MacKinnon said. “Some difficult years mixed in, but now it’s all over. We never stopped believing.”
With a combination of speed, top talent, and the experience gained from those losses, Colorado broke through this time – earning the championship bit by bit by taking down the team that won the National Cup two years ago. . Just as Avalanche fully expected, it wasn’t easy.
After Makar scored early that led to Steven Stamkos’ goal sending them into the pit and adding more bumps and bruises, Avalanche equalized as MacKinnon beat MVP Andrei Vasilevskiy in the 2021 playoffs with a near miss perfect and get ahead of another big goal by acquiring the Artturi Lehkonen trading term. They locked everything down by holding tight and not allowing Tampa Bay to even shoot at Darcy Kuemper in the third round.
When they did, he was there. Brought in from Arizona in an exchange last summer to cement the sport’s most important position, Kuemper came back solidly and made his most important save with less than a half. seven minutes when he slid down to deny skillful winger Nikita Kucherov.
Just as Lightning has succeeded several times by trading high draft options and prospects to upload for the best chance of winning the Trophy, Avalanche general manager Joe Sakic has not hesitated to prepare in March for an acquisition. Lehkonen, defender Josh Manson and veteran forward Andrew Cogliano. They have become the perfect addition to the Colorado core that has shown plenty of playoff promise and has yet to produce a championship.
Sakic, who led Colorado’s first two title-winning teams in 1996 and 2001, used a familiar formula to get his team through. Like Pierre Lacroix, the architect of the Avalanche team that became wildly successful after the organization moved to Denver, Sakic prioritized skill, speed, and flexibility.
That pace overwhelmed every opponent along the way, from an opening sweep against Nashville through a tough six-game series against St. Louis, another sweep by Edmonton and then Tampa Bay, which knocked them out once but ended up with only two brief wins. became the NHL’s first three-peat champion since the early 1980s of the New York Islander dynasty.
“They’re a team looking to be a dynasty,” Makar said. “We’re a team looking to start a legacy.”
That legacy finally ties into the championship, thanks in large part to steady coach Jared Bednar, who in season six found a way to focus his team on the task at hand right from the start. the beginning of the training camp. That mentality helped Avalanche get over the shackles, and Bednar became the first coach to win the Stanley Cup, the American Hockey League’s Calder Cup, and the ECHL’s Kelly Cup.
Bednar won a chess match against Jon Cooper, also a Stanley and Calder Cup champion, who is considered one of the best tacticians in the NHL. But things started to pile up as Lightning faced their toughest competition since their streak of success began in 2020.
Injuries that deflected Brayden Point’s top center and limited other key contributors proved too much for a stacked opponent built to withstand anything. Depth helped Avalanche overcome full-back Samuel Girard with a broken sternum and ended the final game of the Champions League final without Lightning in extra time. right thumb.
Avalanche defeated Lightning before attrition could do too much damage and before the dreaded possibility of facing elimination in Game 7. They’ll be returning to Denver to celebrate with the Trophy instead. Stanley.
While it’s not as emotional as the past two years when Stamkos got the trophy, Colorado’s streak-ending win marks another completion of an NHL season during a pandemic – returning to 82 games for the first time. with the usual playoff format since 2019. It was not without its setbacks, including postponing dozens of games and withdrawing from the Olympics – and Commissioner Gary Bettman was not even able to award the Trophy. Landeskog because he tested positive for coronavirus, prompting vice-captain Bill Daly to accept the title.
Avalanche and Lightning faced occasional snow and ice conditions at the end of June, something that won’t happen in the future when the tournament returns to its normal schedule. When that happens, Colorado will have a chance to defend its crown and try to follow Tampa Bay in maintaining a perennial Cup contender.
AP Sports writer Pat Graham in Denver contributed to this report.