DENVER — Given the way their power play had been struggling of late, the Lightning had to improvise to create scoring opportunities.
In its 3-2 win over the Avalanche in Game 5 Friday at Ball Arena, Tampa Bay finally broke through on the man-advantage when it needed it most.
Nikita Kucherov’s 4-on-3 power-play goal gave the Lightning a 2-1 lead in the second period, following a 1-for-16 stretch in the final (they’re now 2-for-18).
“It was a big moment for, obviously, in the game,” said Lightning captain Steven Stamkos, who notched the primary assist on the goal. “When you get a 4-on-3, you want to capitalize, and we can get some confidence off that as well.”
The Lightning can get overly methodical on the power play, especially when they struggle with the man-advantage, overpassing in search of the perfect shot, and it often leads to the top scorers passing up shots for ones that infrequently come to fruition.
After netting just one shot on goal on their first two power plays of the night, the Lightning were determined to put pucks on net after Ondrej Palat drew a tripping call on Colorado defenseman Cale Makar 6:58 into the second period, a call that outraged the home crowd in Denver.
But the Avalanche collapsed to protect Colorado goaltender Darcy Kuemper. Steven Stamkos, who has struggled to find his shot from the left circle, opened the power play by putting one shot on goal, then missing wide. Avalanche defenseman Josh Manson then blocked two Kucherov shot attempts, then a Stamkos shot.
When Stamkos found the puck on his stick again, he faked a slap shot, bringing Manson to him again, providing enough space to slide the puck to Kucherov in the high slot. Colorado’s Darren Helm was late to block Kucherov’s shot, which went through a Corey Perry screen in front, off the post and in.
“The power play has been struggling a little bit, and a couple of early chances and sometimes you get a little frustrated,” Stamkos said. “So for me personally, just, I felt like I wasn’t getting some opportunities to shoot, so I wanted to shoot right away and to kind of establish that. And then once I do that a couple times, give them credit, guys, were diving in front of them, and I just knew if I maybe pump-faked, it would give them give a lane to make a play.”
Lightning defenseman Erik Cernak missed most of Game 4 after blocking a one-timer by Colorado forward Nathan MacKinnon. He returned in Game 5 but didn’t hesitate to step in front of another MacKinnon snipe on the penalty kill.
Cernak logged 19:27 of ice time, including 2:39 on a Lightning penalty kill that was 2-for-2 on the night, marking the first time this series Tampa Bay has held Colorado without a power-play goal.
“I knew I was going to play, especially in the final,” Cernak said. “You want to play, and obviously it wasn’t easy. But I handled it, and every single player on the ice helped me with that.”
Though he didn’t take faceoffs, center Anthony Cirelli also returned following a Game 4 injury. His 11:46 of ice time was significantly less than usual, but he logged his normal penalty-kill time.
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Center Brayden Point skated Friday morning, an indication he might play in Game 5, but was scratched. How uncertain was the Lightning roster going into Game 5? Center Anthony Richard, a “Black Ace” with all of two games of NHL experience under his belt, skated during pregame warmups in case Cirelli couldn’t play.
Quote of the day
“I guess I haven’t been a part of other organizations, so for me to throw around (the label), ‘the greatest owner in sports,’ I just haven’t seen what other owners are like. But if there’s one better than him, I’d like to know who it is, because I would sign up. I wouldn’t leave, because I’m not leaving this guy. But he is a remarkable human being. He and his family, it is never about the Viniks. It’s always about everybody else, and he is a treasure. That guy is gold.”
— Lightning head coach Jon Cooper on owner Jeff Vinik, who flew all of the team’s fulltime workers to Denver to watch Game 5 in person
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