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After a disputed goal, Avalanche on the verge of winning the Stanley Cup

TAMPA, Fla. — The game that took the Colorado Avalanche to the precipice of winning their first Stanley Cup in more than two decades had ended a minute or two earlier, and the Hockey Hall of Fame behind from the Amalie Arena lift stared straight ahead as he descended the seven flights to ice level.

His face betrayed no clue as to what he had just witnessed – the puck that disappeared, the confusion that reigned, the euphoria that followed – or what it meant to him, the man who gathered the behemoth of these NHL playoffs.

Before the fourth game of the final Wednesday night, it was him, Joe Sakic, now general manager of the Avalanche, who had scored the franchise’s most memorable goal this millennium. He ceded that accolade — thankfully, presumably — to Nazem Kadri, whose run shot fooled everyone, including Lightning goaltender Andrei Vasilevskiy, on-ice officials and an unaccustomed hometown crowd in Tampa. in silence.

When finally spotted in the net, the puck offered confirmation not only of Colorado’s 3-2 overtime victory, but also of a paramount truth in this series and this playoff. The Lightning may have the bona fide and tenacity of a two-time defending champion, but Colorado has been the superior team.

The Avalanche played in 18 playoff games and won 15. They overwhelmed Nashville, St. Louis and Edmonton – sweeping the first and third rounds – before defeating the Lightning three times, twice in overtime, dominating the two additional periods. Their speed, skill and special teams — seven goals to Tampa Bay’s — overwhelmed Tampa Bay, just as Sakic had hoped they would head to the series. On Wednesday, Kadri and five players acquired over the past year — and three before the trade deadline, in Andrew Cogliano, Nico Sturm and Artturi Lehkonen — combined six points on tying and game-winning goals.

Colorado can hoist the Cup with one more victory, starting Friday night in Denver, where from the comfort of a mile’s elevation, the Avalanche beat the Lightning 11-3 in Games 1 and 2.

“Obviously they’re probably preaching, ‘They never came here; they’re going to be tight,’ and that’s fair,” Colorado star center Nathan MacKinnon said. “But we will be ready to go. We’ve been great under pressure all through the playoffs, all season.

MacKinnon is right, by all accounts. Eternal contenders, Colorado hadn’t played for the Cup since 2001, when Sakic scored the game-clinching goal in Game 7 against the Devils, or in the conference finals since 2002. This despite winning the Presidents’ Trophy last season, for winning the NHL. best record, despite a feared collection of talent including MacKinnon, whose progress should be measured by a seismograph, striker Mikko Rantanen and Norris Trophy-winning defender Cale Makar, whose comparisons to Bobby Orr might seem sacrilegious if they weren’t so striking.

Sometimes, however, in the grueling pursuit of a Cup, teams benefit from luck, chance and circumstance and unlimited pain tolerance: from facing lesser goalkeepers in the first three rounds to the Kadri’s surgically repaired right thumb regaining enough function to earn him a return to the squad after a three-week absence.

“Just to think I’m done and have a little hope, sitting here right now, it’s kind of surreal,” Kadri said, adding, “This is what I’ve been waiting for all my life. roughly.”

In Game 4 of their second-round triumph over St. Louis, Kadri scored a hat-trick just hours after receiving racist death threats from fans for a collision that knocked out Blues goaltender Jordan Binnington from the Serie. In another Game 4 on Wednesday, Kadri completed a streak that began with a sweet pass from goaltender Darcy Kuemper – who, sensing the Lightning were tired, had the awareness to push the puck down the ice – and cover the puck in front of Vasilevskiy. Or so it seemed.

For a few seconds, no one celebrated, in a moment that hinted at another disappointing overtime winner of the Finals, scored by Chicago’s Patrick Kane in 2010 to clinch the title against Philadelphia. Then Kadri began to nod, the bench began to empty, and the Lightning began to skate off the ice, their hopes of a third straight title in jeopardy.

Even to reach that point, they had to outlast the two most successful teams in the league, Toronto and Florida, and overcome a 2-0 deficit against the Rangers, while starting every series on the road. To extend it, the Lightning must quell an unholy trinity of disappointment: losing in overtime, at home, on a goal they thought shouldn’t have counted.

Walking into his postgame press conference, Tampa Bay coach Jon Cooper looked like he needed a drink, a hug, or some alone time in a soundproof room. with the referee team – or all three, really. He answered a question before apologizing, appearing defeated as he praised his team’s achievements in an era of salary caps that stifle potential dynasties before veering into a cryptic response that challenged the legitimacy of the goal by Kadri.

“This one is going to sting a lot more than the others,” Cooper said, adding, “You’re going to see what I mean when you see the winning goal. And my heart breaks for the players. Because we probably should still to play.

As he repeated on Thursday, Cooper, a former lawyer, claimed, based on replays ricocheting across social media, that Colorado had too many men on the ice when Kadri scored — that MacKinnon lingered too long, too far from the Avalanche bench, when Kadri jumped on it. The league, in a statement released Thursday morning by its hockey operations department, said none of the officials considered this a violation and the call was not subject to video review.

Although he said Thursday the team needed to move on, Cooper also didn’t mention, understandably, that the Lightning benefited from a similar no-call last playoff season, when they seemed having had an extra player on the ice for the goal that ousted the Islanders in Game 7 of their semi-final series. In hockey, if not in life, these moments tend to balance each other out, and neither rule interpretation nor the vagaries of a puck could diminish Colorado’s authority in overtime when it nearly score on many other occasions.

According to Natural Stat Trick, the Avalanche recorded 75 more total shots at even strength than the Lightning. They have 11 more high-risk scoring chances. They stressed Tampa Bay through the neutral zone and between the circles and under the goal line.

It’s how they’ve won all season, all playoffs, and unless Tampa Bay can summon one last push — then another, then another — the next time Sakic takes an elevator down to the ice , it will be to lift the Stanley Cup .

sports Gt

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