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Tipsheet: Overpowering Avalanche appear ready to fulfill Stanley Cup destiny

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Stanley Cup Avalanche Lightning Hockey

Colorado Avalanche center Nazem Kadri (91) scores the game-winning goal past Tampa Bay Lightning goaltender Andrei Vasilevskiy (88) during the overtime period of Game 4 of the NHL hockey Stanley Cup Finals on Wednesday, June 22, 2022, in Tampa, Fla.

The Colorado Avalanche are the most talented team in the NHL this season, by a fair measure.

And this summer, it seems, the NHL’s most talented team will actually win the Stanley Cup. After dominating opponents in the regular season, they have mostly dominated the playoffs as well -- save for a few games against the Blues.

The best team doesn't always rise to the top in this sport. In fact, quite often it’s not the case. Injuries, puck luck and huge momentum shifts in an emotionally charged sport create some surprising outcomes.

But this season the Avalanche have rolled into the Stanley Cup Final and seized a commanding 3-1 lead in the best-of-seven series. They withstood Tampa Bay’s best shot in Game 4, then tilted the ice against the Lightning and wore them down.

Yeah, that play resulting in Nazem Kadri’s game-winning overtime goal could have resulted in a penalty for too many men on the ice instead, had the officials been paying attention.

But at that point in the OT the Lightning were running on fumes. They were dragging themselves off the ice after their shifts. Sooner or later, the ‘Lanche were going to score.

And now they can win the Cup on home ice.

“We know what it feels like to be in their shoes, to have a chance, obviously, to win at home,” Lightning captain Steven Stamkos said. “It's not an easy thing to do. It's a pretty nerve-wracking day."

Yes, well, ask the Blues about that. Back in 2019 their soiled their sheets in Game 6 with  a chance to win the Cup at home. They didn’t make a little mess that night, they left a hazmat-suit level mess.

Fortunately the Blues regained control of their bodily functions and won Game 7, securing the Cup and triggering the greatest exhibition of public drunkenness in St. Louis history.

The Avalanche stand on the brink of a such a celebration. But they must focus on the task at hand and not daydream about spraying their adoring fans with beer geysers.

“We’ve just got to stay with it and do what we’ve been doing all season. That’s what we’re going to preach,” Colorado superstar Nathan MacKinnon said. “Obviously, they’re probably preaching ‘they’ve never been here, they’re going to be tight’ and that’s fair. But we’ll be ready to go. We’ve been great under pressure all playoffs, all season.”

Here is what folks are writing about the Cup Final:

Ken Wiebe, Sportsnet: “The Stanley Cup will be in the building on Friday night and the Avalanche now have three cracks at winning it for the first time since 2001. This group has been locked in on a singular goal since training camp and has made a habit of eliminating the narratives surrounding previous playoff disappointments, one by one. This next one is going to be the stiffest one yet, but one of the leaders of this Avalanche squad made it clear they were not about to be overwhelmed by this moment.”

Greg Wyshynski, ESPN.com: “Bringing a team to the brink of elimination is different from eliminating it. No disrespect to the teams that the Avalanche swept, but the Tampa Bay Lightning are not the Nashville Predators minus Juuse Saros, nor are they the Edmonton Oilers minus one of Leon Draisaitl's functioning legs. Closing out the back-to-back Stanley Cup champions will be difficult. What the Lightning hope is that the immensity of the moment makes it even more difficult for Colorado.”

Travis Yost, TSN.com: “Colorado’s thrilling overtime victory in Game 4 puts the team just 60 minutes away from a Stanley Cup – a massive accomplishment for Jared Bednar’s team as they have climbed the ladder of hockey excellence. The Avalanche still must deliver one more time in the next three games. But at some point, we must ask the question: Just how good is this Colorado team, and are we underappreciating the on-ice greatness of Bednar’s club? Colorado has generally been a consensus favorite in the betting markets for most of the last two seasons. The talent and depth of the team is universally recognized – I thought Calgary head coach Darryl Sutter summarized Colorado up best, acknowledging that a series against Colorado would amount to a waste of eight days. That was maybe a bit tongue-in-cheek from Sutter, but I don’t know if we are appreciating the degree of dominance exhibited by this Colorado team.”

Lauren Theisen, The Defector: “The 2022 Avalanche know how to play pretty, and while most hockey players probably won’t take that as a compliment, I mean it as one. They were fourth in the league in scoring this year and only got better at it in the playoffs. They knew how to hold possession of the puck, with only the Lightning boasting fewer giveaways all season. They’re dynamic and creative with the man advantage, scoring on over a third of their opportunities in these playoffs. And on the flip side, in large part because of how much they’ve controlled the game in the offensive zone, these Avs were a mere 20th in the league in blocked shots, and 23rd in hits. With seven different 20-goal scorers and nine guys with at least five in the playoffs, the Avalanche have made it clear how well they understand beautiful, attacking hockey, and it so often feels like Makar, or MacKinnon, or Rantanen, or Landeskog, or Nichushkin, or Kadri is just moments away from a devastating break that gets everyone to their feet. They’re fun and charismatic and overflowing with talent, and it’s allowed them to beat the similarly gifted Lightning at their own game so far in this Stanley Cup Final. But Game 4 on Wednesday night was a little bit different—not in its outcome, as the Avalanche won 3-2 in overtime to take a 3-1 series lead—but in the way Colorado got there. In an ugly, physical game that took a toll particularly on the Lightning, the Avs manufactured their own luck through weird bounces, elite conditioning, and a determination to keep trying the net even as the Lightning maintained a fanatical devotion to stopping shots from getting through to Andrei Vasilevskiy. The resulting highlights were quite unlike the show-stealing moments that have defined Colorado’s run so far. Instead, they were indicative of a team willing to sneak through any crack, no matter how tiny, in order to continue on their path to the Cup.”

Adam Proteau, The Hockey News: “You can debate whether or not the Colorado Avalanche’s overtime goal in Game 4 of the Stanley Cup Final Wednesday should’ve counted, but many people would agree it was nice to see forward Nazem Kadri succeeding after the adversity he’s gone through – not just this post-season, but over the course of his 12-year NHL career. Sure, there’s no question Kadri’s role as an agitating-but-talented contributor has earned him his share of detractors, but the vicious bigotry he’s been subject to is beneath contempt, and the 31-year-old has overcome the hatred to take advantage of the opportunity he’s been given on this Avs team. It’s amazing sometimes to see the hockey gods at work, and after Kadri’s thumb was broken in the Western Conference Final against Edmonton, there was ample doubt he’d be able to return to action before the playoffs ended. But he did just that, playing in his first Cup Final game Wednesday, and shaking off any pressure to produce by coming through when his teammates needed him to. The Avalanche are now one win away from winning the third Cup in franchise history, and Kadri has earned a place for his name on the trophy. Hate on, haters; the rest of us are happy to see some good karma come Kadri’s way.”

Nicholas J. Cotsonika, NHL.com: “They say the Stanley Cup is the hardest trophy to win. Well, it's also the hardest trophy to lose. When you've invested so much physically, mentally and emotionally for more than two months during the Stanley Cup Playoffs, you don't want it to go for naught. Now consider the Tampa Bay Lightning entering Game 5 of the Stanley Cup Final at Ball Arena on Friday . . . Their investment spans three seasons. They aren't just chasing the Cup. As coach Jon Cooper has said, they're chasing greatness, trying to become the first team to win the Cup three years in a row since the New York Islanders won it four consecutive seasons from 1980-83. It's hard enough to win the Cup once. You never know how many chances you're going to get, especially in an era with the salary cap and parity. How many chances are the Lightning going to get to go for this?”

MEGAPHONE

“I just thought he battled. I mean, I never doubt his care, his try. I think, you go through our lineup, there are guys who have had bad games in the playoffs. It’s just so much more magnified when it’s a goalie, because he’s your last line of defense.”

Colorado coach Jared Bednar, on his decision to go back to Darcy Kuemper after his rough Game 3.

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