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Gut check time for the Avalanche

Does Colorado have the will to beat the peskiest champions in a war of attrition?

2022 NHL Stanley Cup Final - Game Three Photo by Mike Carlson/Getty Images

Game 3 ended as the worst playoff defeat for the Avalanche during their quest for the cup after the Tampa Bay Lightning dominated them by a score of 6-2. Colorado scrambled to find answers during a second period that featured four goals for the opposition. No matter how many times Jared Bednar shook the eight ball, the message read, “try again” for the rest of the evening.

Tampa Bay isn’t going to go quietly into the night as the Oilers and Predators did. Colorado Avalanche players and fans should realize that now. The question is, how will Colorado respond to getting dominated? Can they replicate the poise and resolve that the Lightning displayed in Game 3 after they suffered a 7-0 defeat?

So over anecdotal

Throughout this series, I’ve been dying on a specific hill. Perhaps it’s a mountain that I’ve made from a molehill. Nonetheless, my stance has been this; I don’t think the dialogue around this Stanley Cup matchup should rely on anecdotal and meaningless statistics. We heard over and over about the Lightning being 18-1 after a defeat in the playoffs. Then we watched the Avalanche dominate Game 2 from start to finish. The dialogue shifted to, “the Avalanche are undefeated on the road; here comes the sweep.” Then what happened? You can’t rely on the past to predict the future, at least not when the stakes are this high, and not in a matchup that features such quality teams.

If we look closely at this matchup and turn down the low-hanging fruit of the previous outcomes, you’ll see two evenly matched teams. You’ll also see two teams struggling through some bumps and bruises. Depth has been the story of this series, with each group being exploited as guys leave the lineup due to injury. So which team will get more relief in this department as the series wears on?

The Avalanche could see the return of forward Nazem Kadri as early as Game 4. Andre Burakovsky didn’t make the trip to Tampa and is still in Denver receiving treatment but will skate later today or tomorrow. If one or both of these players can return and play to form, that would heavily benefit the Avalanche and depth contribution. Losing Burky to injury in Game 2 forced Colorado to split up the third forward line that had been dominating. The return of either Burky or Kadri would allow the Avalanche to return to previous matchups.

The Lightning saw the return of Brayden Point for Games 1 and 2 but he was not in the lineup in Tampa. Victor Hedman, Corey Perry, and Nikita Kucherov all look a bit banged up with each taking a noticeable amount of time to return to the bench on numerous occasions. This won’t break a team like Tampa, but it will definitely bend them to the brink.

Where there’s a will

Game 4 will be the 10th game in 22 days for the Lightning, while Colorado will play their eighth game that same timeframe. The deeper this series goes, the more those two days will add up in favor of Colorado, although both sides will be affected by the grueling requirements of a final. Each team will have to find the will to win as their respective playoff runs get more and more physically demanding. Neither team can afford to “just not have it” due to being mentally exhausted.

In the end, all the cliches surrounding the Stanley Cup will remain valid. It will have been a trial of attrition. It will be a trying journey that ends with the crowning of the league’s most deserving and resilient team, not the league’s most talented team. The intangibles will separate these teams in the future, which is the best way to look at it. Can Colorado win by way of not being denied?