Emotions were high as the Colorado Avalanche looked to win the Stanley Cup in front of their home fans. But, it would be the Tampa Bay Lightning playing spoiler, as they came out on top 3-2.
The Bolts are still behind 3-2 in the series but now have all the momentum and energy on their side going back home with their home crowd behind them. It almost feels like it’s already going seven games in this series if that’s the case. Let’s hope it doesn’t, but for now, let’s review how we got to this point.
Things were pretty even throughout the period. J.T. Compher took an early high sticking penalty that would eventually be killed off by the Avs, not giving Tampa too much to look at.
After another penalty kill after a Nazem Kadri hook, the Avs would find some chances which also included a power play after MacKinnon was tripped. Ultimately, it wouldn’t work in their favor as Jan Rutta would find space on the right side of the ice. He beat Darcy Kuemper between his glove and pad in what was a pretty cheap goal to give up and have his Avs fall behind 1-0.
The Avs collectively looked good in response. The first two lines had Tampa swimming around and somehow didn’t get past Andrei Vasilevskiy. MacKinnon missed by inches on a breakaway which was killer heading down a goal into the intermission.
After an impressive start to the period from Andrei Vasilevskiy, Valeri Nichushkin would solve the netminder from a rebound shot that he put into a gaping net. He would tie the game at one and give the Avs and the crowd a ton of momentum.
It looked as if the Avs would keep it up before Compher was called for a phantom holding the stick penalty. Later on, Cale Makar was then called for a trip where the Bolts player was already falling to the ice. It led to a 4-on-3 that was converted by Stamkos.
The crowd was restless towards the referees, who had taken what Jon Cooper had whined about during the Game 4 postgame press conference to heart. Things were not going the Avs’ way at all, despite being on a pretty even playing field.
Finally, Ross Colton was called for high sticking Logan O’Connor which led to several chances from the Avs. It included a couple of 200-foot rushes from the aforementioned Makar and Bowen Byram, both of which were stopped by Vasilevskiy. A couple of rushes in the final two minutes beat neither goaltender as we headed to the third in a tightly-contested 2-1 game.
The Avs came out with the upper hand, as Cale Makar would shoot the puck down low. In a battle with Nichushkin, Erik Cernak wound up hitting the puck with his skate into his own net and sent Ball Arena into pandemonium.
In the middle portion of the period, it was nothing but fire wagon hockey. Back and forth, bodies flying everywhere, moving a thousand miles an hour, it was all so intense to the point where anyone in the press box could even decipher what was going on. It looked to carry on that way for the rest of the game as each team looked for a winner.
It would come from the Tampa Bay Department, as the Avs were caught puck-watching and left Ondrej Palat all alone in front. He managed to squeeze another puck through Kuemper that trickled in and gave the Bolts a tremendous lead.
The Avs had chances to get back in it, but it all collapsed when Corey Perry calling from the bench earned his team a power play because of a Colorado too-many-men-on-the-ice penalty. It was a bad change, but considering the refs personally listened to him is bugging. It killed pretty much any chance of an equalizer for the Avs in the final two minutes and left a sour taste in everyone’s mouth with an ‘A’ on their chest leaving Ball Arena.
I know I will get flack for this but it needs to be said: this was a poorly reffed game. Right from the top, it was noticeable that Jon Cooper had instilled into the referee’s mind his thoughts and opinions after the Game 4 loss. Tampa was given more opportunities on the man-advantage with some questionable calls, and the Avs were severely underwhelmed with how much the zebras let go. At this point, you almost need to complain to referees to have things go your way. It worked for the Vegas Golden Knights last year and is so far for the Tampa Bay Lightning. No matter what the players and Jared Bednar may say tonight that ‘we aren’t here to talk about the officials’ or ‘we don’t make excuses,’ it’s gotta be in the back of their minds of how poorly things have gone for them. Puck luck and the hockey gods are not on their side.
Now, away from the refereeing - this was an even-sided game. Colorado led in the shot department for most of the night and was on the front foot going after Tampa’s defense. However, they were let down tonight by a lackluster Kuemper. Goals one and three he should have had which would’ve made things very different. In the most critical moment of the season, he was the one to bring the level down. Before anyone says anything, yes he will still be the starter - we aren’t going to have that debate after this game compared to Game 3.
This game feels very similar to Game 5 against the St. Louis Blues in the second round. What was a series that was so close to ending on home ice ended up with a surprise Game 6 is going down the same path as that series. The Avs need to be resilient and build up again, just like they did then. The injuries are something to worry about though. Makar was shaken up late on. Both Nichushkin and Compher were getting gold cart rides to the X-Ray room after the game tonight. Burakovsky remains out. Cogliano was shaken up by a shot midway through the game. It is something to be concerned about now heading into an extra game of this series no one on that team wanted to be heading to, especially if they will be down numerous NHL-caliber players.
The series unfortunately continues and will head back to Florida for Game 6 Sunday night, where once again the Cup will be in the building where the Avs can win then. Tampa will undoubtedly have the front foot on home ice and continue to push the issue towards a three-peat. Puck drop is at 6:00 p.m. MT on ABC.