TAMPA — For just over 13 minutes of Game 3 Monday, Darcy Kuemper’s dream-like start to his first Stanley Cup final continued.
Kuemper had outshined counterpart Andrei Vasilevskiy during the first two games in Denver, saving 36 of the 39 shots he faced for a .923 save percentage. In Colorado’s 7-0 demolition of the Lightning in Game 2, he had to make only 16 saves to record his second career postseason shutout, and first since 2014.
The Lightning peppered the goal Monday, and Kuemper appeared up to the task early. He helped the Avalanche weather an early Lightning push with good saves on Ross Colton and Nick Paul. He also was solid after Alex Newhook held Pierre-Edouard Bellemare’s stick to give the Lightning their second power play, denying two rebound chances from Corey Perry from point-blank range off a snap shot from Nikita Kucherov.
Anthony Cirelli slid the puck through his legs to tie the score shortly after the power play expired, however, and Kuemper’s night went south from there. In just over the next 18 minutes of play, Kuemper allowed four more goals.
He was pulled just over 11 minutes into the second period after Pat Maroon — out with the Steven Stamkos and Kucherov line after serving a roughing penalty — tucked in a backhand from close range off a pass from Kucherov. Kuemper finished with 17 saves on 22 shots (a .773 percentage), despite stopping all six shots he faced on Lightning power plays.
Forward Mikko Rantanen, who assisted on both Colorado goals, said Kuemper getting pulled was on the Avalanche for giving the Lightning several clear-cut chances in the slot.
“Can’t really ask for a goalie to make every save when you give him tests like that, so it was on us for sure,” he said. “But we know (Kuemper) is a great goalie, and he’s going to bounce back like everybody else.”
Vasilevskiy, meanwhile, recovered his trademark form, saving 37 of 39 shots (a .949 percentage) and going a perfect 30-for-30 on even-strength opportunities. He robbed J.T. Compher on what looked a certain goal early in the second period, sprawling across the crease to make the save with his blocker.
“I thought we had some chances,” Rantanen said. “(Vasilevskiy) played his best game (during) this series. Now we just have to bounce back.”
Coach Jared Bednar said his team didn’t execute in front of Kuemper and didn’t make the Lightning “earn” several of their goals.
“I didn’t think he had a good night,” he said of Kuemper. “Neither did our team.”
Two of Pavel Francouz’s six postseason wins have come in relief, but any hopes of an Avalanche comeback Monday were derailed less than four minutes after he entered the game thanks to Perry’s deflection of a Victor Hedman shot from the point.
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Francouz, who filled in during the Western Conference final after Kuemper left Game 1 with an upper-body injury, shut out the Lightning in the third period, though he only faced six shots. If he gets the start in Game 4, he will have the chance to set the longest playoff win streak in franchise history.
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