DENVER — The disparity in the number of shots between Colorado and Tampa Bay in Game 1 of the Stanley Cup final was eye-opening and, moving forward, probably insurmountable.
The Avalanche have been firing shots on goal at a pace no team has maintained in NHL postseason history. At least, not teams that have survived this deep in the playoffs.
It is basically who the Avs are. They are a fast-paced, high-volume, shot-taking team that is averaging 40.5 shots on goal in the postseason. The Lightning are not likely to match that.
Nor should they try.
Going into Game 2 tonight, Tampa Bay just needs to close the gap a little. The Lightning need to shoot more and pass less. Specifically, they need to put more pressure on Colorado goaltender Darcy Kuemper.
“There is something to be said for paying attention to the total number of shots, but there is also a balance in the quality of shots,” said assistant coach Derek Lalonde. “There have been times when we were outshot by a vast number and still felt we were in control the whole game.
“Specifically, for us, Colorado is a quick defensive team, not a heavy defensive team. We want to get shots on net to create chaos and shot scrambles.”
What Lalonde is talking about is rebounds — putting bodies in front of the crease, taking aim at the net and then hunting loose pucks if Kuemper doesn’t stop a shot cleanly.
It is, in a way, how the Avalanche scored in overtime in Game 1.
Colorado’s J.T. Compher launched a shot directly in front of the Lightning net that Victor Hedman went down on one knee to block. The puck ricocheted to the Avalanche’s Valeri Nichushkin, who sent a pass to Andre Burakovsky, who buried the winner before Andrei Vasilevskiy could slide from left to right.
The unspoken part of this strategy, from Tampa Bay’s perspective, is Kuemper might be the most vulnerable player on the ice for Colorado. He had solid regular-season numbers but has been shaky in the postseason.
Colorado coach Jared Bednar described Kuemper’s performance in Game 1 as “pretty good” Wednesday night and had upgraded it to “a nice job” by Friday. Not exactly an exuberant appraisal after a victory.
And that might be because the Lightning did not make him work. They got only 23 shots on goal in Game 1, which was their lowest total for the postseason.
Now, they haven’t necessarily needed a ton of shots in earlier rounds — they are 5-2 in the postseason when getting less than 30 shots on goal — but they’re probably not going to win many 2-1 games against the high-powered Avalanche. Colorado has been held to less than two goals only once this postseason.
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Lightning defenseman Ryan McDonagh acknowledged it was a little unnerving to see Colorado’s speed up close in Game 1.
“I don’t think you can ever really understand it until you feel it in the first game like that,” McDonagh said. “They definitely have speed throughout their lineup, and they love to go on the attack and hunt. They make good reads on when to dump pucks and when to carry it in, so you have to constantly be pushing yourself to have good gaps and forcing them to get the pucks out of their hands.”
Advanced analytics say Colorado had significantly more control of the puck in 5-on-5 situations Wednesday night, but Lalonde said the Lightning were not unhappy with the amount of opportunities they had. It’s what they did with the puck that needs adjusting.
“If you’re not shooting pucks, then you’re not getting zone time, they’re getting easier outs of their (defensive) zone, and then they’re coming at us with speed,” Lalonde said. “Obviously, that’s something we don’t want.”
Upon reflection, head coach Jon Cooper said the Lightning gave up more odd-man rushes than they would have preferred but singled out their puck management offensively as the biggest concern.
The Lightning have no interest in a track-meet-style game with the Avalanche. That’s the lesson they learned in 2019 in the first round against Columbus. And in some ways, they had to relearn it against Toronto in the first round last month.
If Tampa Bay is to win a third consecutive Stanley Cup, it will be because it played tight defense and opportunistic offense. The Lightning were slightly off in both categories in Game 1.
“We’ve proven that it works for us. We’ve proven that it gives us a chance to win,” McDonagh said. “Ultimately, it will give us a chance to win the series.”
John Romano can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow @romano_tbtimes.
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