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Game 3 Preview: Avs return to Tampa

Colorado has Tampa in a must win situation up 2-0 in the series.

NHL: Stanley Cup Playoffs-Tampa Bay Lightning at Colorado Avalanche Isaiah J. Downing-USA TODAY Sports

The Colorado Avalanche return to Florida for the first time since October 2021 to face the Tampa Bay Lightning in Game 3 of the Stanley Cup Final. Can the Lightning steal some thunder from Colorado, or will the Avalanche take a commanding series lead? Colorado put on a dominant display in a lopsided 7-0 victory and now leads the best-of-seven series two games to none.

Colorado Avalanche

The story of Game 2 was Colorado’s speed and puck support. They were able to break out with ease, get into transition with numbers, and beat the vaunted Vasilevskiy seven times. Valeri Nichushkin put on a checking clinic and finished the night just a goal shy of a hat-trick. Not bad for a guy making 850K.

If the Lightning is as resilient as advertised, the Avalanche will still have a lot of work ahead of them. Darcy Kuemper secured his first postseason shutout in Game 2 but wasn’t tested that much. I’d expect that to change with the series shifting to Tampa. The Lightning will be back home and desperate for a win. It’s not a series until someone wins on the road, and the Avalanche has a tremendous opportunity.

Projected Lineup:

Gabriel Landeskog — Nathan MacKinnon — Valeri Nichushkin
Artturi Lehkonen — JT Compher — Mikko Rantanen
Alex Newhook — Nico Sturm — Nicolas Aube-Kubel
Andrew Cogliano — Darren Helm — Logan O’Connor

Cale Makar — Devon Toews
Jack Johnson — Josh Manson
Bowen Byram — Erik Jonson

Note: Avalanche forward Andre Burakovsky left Game 2 during the second period and did not return. He’s meeting the team tonight but whether or not he plays is TBD. We could see Nazem Kadri, although I expect him to return in Game 4 as he wasn’t at morning skate.

Tampa Bay Lightning

The Lightning were reeling for most of Game 2 and won’t take much momentum into this next contest. National media members have already begun to point out that Tampa was blown out by the Maple Leafs and Rangers and still found a way to win the series. Moreover, the Rangers had a commanding two-game lead in the Eastern Conference Final before losing four straight to the back-to-back champs.

Tampa forward Brayden Point is listed as day-to-day heading into tonight’s game, but I’d expect him to play again despite his status. Andrei Vasilevskiy didn’t take the morning skate, but there is no way he doesn’t get the start.

The two-time defending champs have been able to find Lightning in a bottle when their backs are against the wall. They will have to keep up with Colorado’s speed to avoid going down three games to none.

Projected Lineup:

Ondrej Palat — Steven Stamkos — Nikita Kucherov
Brandon Hagel — Anthony Cirelli — Alex Killorn
Ross Colton — Brayden Point — Nick Paul
Patrick Maroon — Pierre-Eduard Bellemare — Corey Perry

Victor Hedman — Jan Rutta
Ryan McDonagh — Erik Cernak
Mikhail Sergachev — Zach Bogosian

Note: Tampa looked slow and worn down during Game 2. They have played 20 games in 40-some days during their cup run.

Goaltenders

The Avalanche will go with Darcy Kuemper in net once again this evening. Darcy has made timely saves for Colorado despite not being tested all that much. He’s been outstanding on the penalty kill. He’ll need to be good against a desperate Lightning squad for Colorado to secure the victory.

Andrei Vasilevskiy will get the start for the Lightning despite not participating in the morning skate. He’s likely chomping at the bit after suffering the worst playoff loss of his career. He wasn’t entirely to blame for the happenings of Game 2, but if Tampa wants to stem the tide, Vasy may have to steal a game.