I realize that this piece already lacks some internal logic—that by putting “the Avalanche’s seven-goal outburst over the two-time defending champs isn’t the headline” in the headline I am literally making that the headline. But I promise you, dear reader, it is not the headline. Despite the fact that the Colorado Avalanche scored in every imaginable way—on the power play, at 5-on-5, and shorthanded (thank you Saint Cale)—Colorado performing the basic function a team needs to win hockey games many times is not the headline.
The headline is how they prevented the two-time defending Stanley Cup Champions from doing anything resembling what a hockey team needs to do to win hockey games. Yes the 7 in the final score was impressive, but the 0 was far more overwhelming.
Don’t believe me? Check out the heat map from Game 2. Colorado lived in the slot while the Tampa Bay Lighting had zero unblocked shot attempts from the middle and low slot (and only charitably can be given credit for attempts from the high slot).
This is complete and utter annihilation. This is Death Star incinerating planets kind of stuff. If the Avalanche played this way every game during the regular season, they would go 82-0. This is perfect. This image is the Mona Lisa of hockey. I am weeping with joy just looking at it.
In fact, I don’t think it’s hyperbolic at all to say that adjusted for opponent and situation, this is the most dominant game in the history of the Colorado Avalanche and Quebec Nordiques.
There are really only two candidates that could challenge that assertion and I don’t believe that either measure up to the lofty standards set by the Lightning. The first is Game 2 of the 1996 Stanley Cup Final where they beat the Florida Panthers and that year’s hot goaltender du jour, John Vanbiesbrouck, 8-1. Peter Forsberg scored a hat trick in that game, and he was who Valeri Nichushkin and Cale Makar were chasing late in Game 2, as Foppa was the last NHL player to record a hat trick in a Stanley Cup Final.
The other is Game 1 of the 2001 Stanley Cup Final when the Avalanche methodically dismantled the defending champion New Jersey Devils 5-0, making an emphatic statement that the defending champs had met their match. You could also make the case for their 3-1 Game 7 victory over the Devils given that not only was it Game 7 of the Stanley Cup Final, but they had the entire weight of Ray Bourque’s momentous career weighing on their shoulders. However, I don’t think this or the 1996 demolition measures up to what happened last night.
The shot attempt figures from Game 2 are just staggering, and they confirm what we all saw with our own eyes: Colorado turned the champs into chumps. This chart makes more sense as an Avs vs. Your Local Beer League team than as a Stanley Cup Final 1st period against the back-to-back defending champions. I am genuinely having a difficult time wrapping my head around this level of dominance on this stage against this kind of team. This image shouldn’t exist. Yet it does.
The Avalanche finished with 30 shots on goal versus 16 for the Lightning (for a 60-28 total shot attempt advantage). In 8:43 of 5-on-5, the top line of Nathan Mackinnon, Valeri Nichushkin, and Gabriel Landeskog did not allow a shot attempt. Nikita Kucherov finished with zero shot attempts. Every real stat from this game is so brazenly shocking that I could make something up like “Cale Makar skated 4,000 feet around Victor Hedman until Hedman acknowledged that Makar is the best defenseman in the league” and it wouldn’t seem too far out of place with the real figures from this game.
After the contest, Lightning coach Jon Cooper said “they’re just playing at a much higher level than we are, I think that was evident tonight,” and as complementary as that is towards the Avs, it is still the understatement of the century. In Game 2, the Avalanche dominated to such a staggering degree that it is fair to question the league’s sitting dynasty as to how the heck they can win when the Avalanche is playing like a literal avalanche. You can never count out the champs, so anyone saying this series is over is getting out over their skis, but it is very obvious that Tampa Bay has extremely serious issues dealing with both the Avalanche’s speed and their forechecking, and they clearly cannot beat Colorado at their own game—not to mention their inability to generate any kind of offense these first two games outside of self-inflicted Avalanche wounds and some momentary Kucherov wizardry.