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Just how close were Lightning to Avalanche? Numbers say the margin was thin

Tampa Bay fell to a talented Colorado team in a Stanley Cup final that was remarkably close.
Lightning goaltender Andrei Vasilevskiy blocks a shot on goal during the second period of Game 6 of the Stanley Cup final Sunday at Amalie Arena.
Lightning goaltender Andrei Vasilevskiy blocks a shot on goal during the second period of Game 6 of the Stanley Cup final Sunday at Amalie Arena. [ DIRK SHADD | Times ]
Published Jun. 27|Updated Jun. 29

TAMPA — It was nearly two hours past midnight early Monday morning when the Colorado Avalanche paraded the Stanley Cup out of Amalie Arena. Captain Gabriel Landeskog held it high over his head with several teammates in tow, yelling through the hallway leading from the visiting locker room to the team bus.

Stanley, we hardly knew ye.

There’s no consolation prize for the Lightning. Following their Game 6 loss, they had to wrap their heads around the unfamiliar feeling of losing the final game of the NHL season for the first time in three seasons.

Though they trailed 2-0 and 3-1 and couldn’t push the series to seven games, the margin between these two titans was fine. Two of Colorado’s wins came in overtime, and four of the six games were decided by a single goal.

“It’s not like we lost to some powderpuff,” Lightning coach Jon Cooper said Sunday. “That’s a baller hockey team over there. So in saying that, it doesn’t make it less easy, because you have to beat good teams when you win a Stanley Cup. But we just got bettered by one tonight, and we just ran out of gas. And it sucks.”

Here are five numbers that show just how close the final was:

Plus-1

Lightning center Steven Stamkos (91) celebrates his first-period goal.
Lightning center Steven Stamkos (91) celebrates his first-period goal. [ DIRK SHADD | Times ]

Lightning goal differential in 5-on-5 play

As the postseason progressed, the Lightning’s confidence in their 5-on-5 game grew, and it was a big part of why they went so far. They knew if they could stay out of the penalty box, their even-strength play would speak for itself. Despite having 93 fewer shot attempts at even strength over the course of the final, the Lightning outscored the Avalanche 13-12 in 5-on-5 situations (Colorado had one 4-on-4). Colorado overcame that deficit on special teams, where it had a 6-2 advantage in power-play goals and scored once shorthanded.

0

Lightning center Brayden Point (21) watches the puck as Colorado Avalanche goaltender Darcy Kuemper (35) and defensemen Cale Makar (8), right, and Devon Toews (7), far left, look on during the third period of Game 2.
Lightning center Brayden Point (21) watches the puck as Colorado Avalanche goaltender Darcy Kuemper (35) and defensemen Cale Makar (8), right, and Devon Toews (7), far left, look on during the third period of Game 2. [ DOUGLAS R. CLIFFORD | Times ]

Even-strength shots on goal by Brayden Point in the series

Who knows how much Point could have helped the Lightning had he been able to play in the final four games. But, given the narrow margin of victory in those games, you’d have to think he would have helped. Point returned to play in the first two games but was a non-factor. He had just one shot on goal, and it was on the power play. Given the way the Lightning were able to play defense after the first two games, any kind of offensive contribution from Point, who had 14 goals in each of the previous two postseasons, could have made a difference.

2.25

Lightning goaltender Andrei Vasilevskiy (88) is pictured during the second period of Game 6.
Lightning goaltender Andrei Vasilevskiy (88) is pictured during the second period of Game 6. [ LUIS SANTANA | Times ]
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Andrei Vasilevskiy’s goals-against average after allowing seven goals in Game 2

It might get forgotten, but Vasilevskiy made a remarkable recovery from the worst playoff performance of his career (seven goals against) in Game 2, allowing just nine over Games 3 through 6. He allowed only two in three of those games while facing an average of nearly 36 shots a game, posting a .937 save percentage during that stretch. Cooper often says that when you allow two goals or fewer, you give yourself a chance to win, and that’s exactly what Vasilevskiy did for his team down the stretch. Take away some of the bad bounces in front of the net — three Colorado goals in the final three games hit off skates or legs before going in — and his numbers would have been even better.

4

Lightning center Anthony Cirelli (71) celebrates his goal during the first period of Game 4.
Lightning center Anthony Cirelli (71) celebrates his goal during the first period of Game 4. [ DOUGLAS R. CLIFFORD | Times ]

Lightning first-intermission leads

Even though an early storyline of the series was the Lightning’s slow starts in the first two games in Denver, they took a lead into the first intermission in each of the final four games, outscoring the Avalanche 5-1 in the first period. The Avalanche didn’t play with many regulation leads over the course of the series’ final four games. When Artturi Lehkonen scored the eventual Cup-clinching goal at 12:28 of the second period in Game 6, it was the Avalanche’s first regulation lead since Landeskog scored the first goal 8:19 into Game 3.

66.7

Lightning left wing Alex Killorn (17), left, along with teammates left wing Nick Paul (20), center, and left wing Brandon Hagel (38) look on after a goal by Colorado's Nathan MacKinnon in the second period of Game 6.
Lightning left wing Alex Killorn (17), left, along with teammates left wing Nick Paul (20), center, and left wing Brandon Hagel (38) look on after a goal by Colorado's Nathan MacKinnon in the second period of Game 6. [ DIRK SHADD | Times ]

Percentage of Lightning goals in the series scored by the same five players

In your biggest moments, your best players have to shine, but the Lightning could have benefited from a more balanced scoring load. Ten of the team’s 15 goals in the series were scored by the same five players. A big bulk of that came from the top line of Ondrej Palat, Steven Stamkos and Nikita Kucherov, who combined for six of the Lightning’s goals. Add two apiece from Anthony Cirelli and Nick Paul — as well as three by defensemen — and there weren’t many contributions from the other forwards in the lineup.

• • •

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