This series was never meant to finish in anything less than six games. The defending Cup Champion Tampa Bay Lightning put up just enough fight in Ball Arena on Friday to force the Avalanche to try to do exactly what they’ve done three times so far this postseason: close out a series on the road.
When the two teams face off at Amelie Arena tonight, it’s win or go home for both clubs, though for the Avs a loss means one more shot at glory in front of their home crowd in Denver while a Bolts L would send Tampa’s team home to watch The Boys or catch up on Stranger Things.
The Cup is in the building folks. Will the Avalanche lift it, or let it take one final plane ride back to Denver?
The road has been friendly to Colorado, who are 8-1 in the playoffs including all three series-clinching victories. That one loss, though, came just a couple of games ago as the Avs were blown out in Game 3 by a hungrier Lightning squad.
Game 5 was a loss, though the Avalanche once again had the better play at even strength, more chances, more shots generated, and more time on the attack. Beating all-world goaltender Andrei Vasilevskiy proved exceptionally difficult on Friday, as two weird bounces were the only plays that ended up behind him and he snared every good look the Avs generated.
It’ll take more traffic in front of him, more offense from the top line, and stronger play from the bottom six to close this thing out. It’s doable, so let’s do it.
Artturi Lehkonen (62) - Nathan MacKinnon (29) - Mikko Rantanen (96)
Gabriel Landeskog (92) - Nazem Kadri (91) - Valeri Nichushkin (13)
Alex Newhook (18) - J.T. Compher (37) - Logan O’Connor (25)
Andrew Cogliano (11) - Darren Helm (43) - Nico Sturm (78)
Note: Andre Burakovsky (95) will be in the arena - no word yet on whether or not he plays. If he does, Sturm will likely sit, with LOC dropping to the 4th line, and Burky either taking his place or Lehkonen’s.
Devon Toews (7) - Cale Makar (8)
Jack Johnson (3) - Josh Manson (42)
Bowen Byram (4) - Erik Johnson (6)
Tampa Bay Lightning
Tampa is, to quote a band called Broken Bells, holding on for life. They’re on the ropes and showed enough counterpunch in Game 5 to stay alive, but they’ll likely need to find another gear to force a Game 7.
Tonight they don’t have any controversy to fuel them, no road team underdog card to play, and no excuses - the drive to keep their hopes at a threepeat off the mat is all they have. Will it be enough?
Ondrej Palat (18) - Steven Stamokos (91) - Nikita Kucherov (86)
Brandon Hagel (38) - Anthony Cirelli (71) - Alex Killorn (17)
Nick Paul (20) - Ross Colton (79) - Corey Perry (10)
Patrick Maroon (14) - Pierre Eduoard-Bellemare (41) - Riley Nash (16)
Victor Hedman (77) - Jan Rutta (44)
Ryan McDonagh (27) - Eric Cernak (81)
Mikhail Sergachev (98) - Zach Bogosian (24)
It’s Darcy vs Andrei, Kuemper vs Vasilevskiy, 35 vs 88. We know what Vasy does in elimination games - he eats pucks at an extremely high rate. Kuemps doesn’t have to match that tonight to give the Avalanche a chance to win, he just can’t give up softies like the opening goal on Friday.