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Colorado Avalanche win Stanley Cup Championship after 2-1 win over the Tampa Bay Lightning

APTOPIX Stanley Cup Avalanche Lightning Hockey
APTOPIX Stanley Cup Avalanche Lightning Hockey
Posted at 10:49 PM, Jun 26, 2022
and last updated 2022-06-27 05:32:32-04

TAMPA, Fla. — The Colorado Avalanche shattered the Tampa Bay Lightning’s hopes of winning a third-straight Stanley Cup on Sunday.

Colorado defeated Tampa Bay 2 to 1 to win the Stanley Cup Championship inside Amalie Arena.

The Avalanche took the Best-of-7 series 4-2.

The Lightning entered Game 6 without Brayden Point. The center has missed the last four games as he continues to recover from a lower-body injury.

PHOTOS | Stanley Cup Final Game 6 action

APTOPIX Stanley Cup Avalanche Lightning Hockey
Colorado Avalanche center Nathan MacKinnon lifts the Stanley Cup after the team defeated the Tampa Bay Lightning 2-1 in Game 6 of the NHL hockey Stanley Cup Finals on Sunday, June 26, 2022, in Tampa, Fla. (AP Photo/John Bazemore)

Sunday's win for the Avalanche marks the third Stanley Cup win in franchise history and the first in more than two decades.

It’s the first title for this core group led by MacKinnon, captain Gabriel Landeskog, Mikko Rantanen and Cale Makar and it follows years of playoff disappointment. The Avalanche lost in the second round each of the past three seasons after getting knocked out in the first round in 2018.

With a mix of speed, high-end talent and the experiences gained from those defeats, Colorado broke through this time — earning every bit of the championship by knocking off the team that hoisted the Cup the past two years. Like the Avalanche fully expected, it wasn’t easy.

After an early turnover by Makar leading to Steven Stamkos' goal that put them in a hole and several more bumps and bruises, the Avalanche tied it when MacKinnon beat 2021 playoff MVP Andrei Vasilevskiy with a near-perfect shot and went ahead on another big goal by trade deadline acquisition Artturi Lehkonen. They locked things down by holding on to the puck and not letting Tampa Bay even shoot the puck on Darcy Kuemper in the third period.

Stanley Cup Avalanche Lightning Hockey
Tampa Bay Lightning defenseman Erik Cernak (81) checks Colorado Avalanche center Nathan MacKinnon (29) during the third period of Game 6 of the NHL hockey Stanley Cup Finals on Sunday, June 26, 2022, in Tampa, Fla. (AP Photo/John Bazemore)

When they did, he was there. Brought in from Arizona in a trade last summer to shore up the sport's most important position, Kuemper was solid again and made his most important save with under seven minutes left when he slid over to deny skilled winger Nikita Kucherov.

Much like the Lightning went all in multiple times by trading high draft picks and prospects to load up for the best chance to win the Cup, Avalanche general manager Joe Sakic was not afraid to ante up in March to acquire Lehkonen, defenseman Josh Manson and veteran forward Andrew Cogliano. They became the perfect complement to Colorado’s core that had showed plenty of playoff promise and until now hadn’t produced a championship.

Sakic, who captained Colorado’s first two title-winning teams in 1996 and 2001, used a familiar recipe to get his team over the hump. Much like Pierre Lacroix, the architect of those Avalanche teams that had so much success after the organization moved to Denver, Sakic prioritized skill, speed and versatility.

That speed overwhelmed every opponent along the way, from an opening sweep of Nashville through a hard-fought, six-game series against St. Louis, another sweep of Edmonton and then Tampa Bay, which staved off elimination once but ended up two victories short of becoming the NHL’s first three-peat champions since the early 1980s New York Islanders dynasty.

“They’re a team that’s looking to become a dynasty,” Makar said. “We’re a team that’s looking to start a legacy.”

That legacy finally involves a championship, thanks in large part to steady coach Jared Bednar, who in his sixth season found a way to focus his team on the mission at hand from the start of training camp. That mentality helped the Avalanche get over the hump, and Bednar became the first coach to win the Stanley Cup, American Hockey League's Calder Cup and ECHL's Kelly Cup.

Bednar won the chess match with Jon Cooper, also a Stanley and Calder Cup champion who is considered one of the best tacticians in the NHL. But things began to stack up against the Lightning facing their stiffest competition since their run of success began in 2020.

Injuries that sidelined top center Brayden Point and limited other key contributors proved too much against a stacked opponent built to withstand just about anything. Depth allowed the Avalanche to overcome losing defenseman Samuel Girard to a broken sternum and finish off the Lightning without Cup Final Game 1 overtime Andre Burakovsky sidelined by injury and with standout winger Valeri Nichushkin hobbling around on an injured right foot and center Nazem playing through a broken right thumb.

The Avalanche beat the Lightning before attrition could take too much of a toll and before the scary possibility of facing elimination in Game 7. Instead, they'll return to Denver to celebrate with the Stanley Cup.

While not as emotional as the past two years when Commissioner Gary Bettman presented the trophy to Stamkos, Colorado's series-ending victory marks another completion of an NHL season during a pandemic — the first back to 82 games with a normal playoff format since 2019. It was not without its stumbles, including postponing dozens of games and pulling out of the Olympics.

The Avalanche and Lightning dealt with at-times rough ice conditions playing late into June, something that should not happen moving forward as the league gets back to its regular schedule. When that happens, Colorado will get the chance to defend its crown and attempt to follow Tampa Bay in sustaining a perennial Cup contender.

A win by the Lightning would have gone down in hockey history. Only seven teams have come back from a 3-1 deficit and forced a Game 7 in the Stanley Cup Finals. The last team to do so was the Edmonton Oilers in 2006.

In addition, the last time the Stanley Cup Final has gone seven games was in 2019 when the Saint Louis Blues defeated the Boston Bruins.

Thanks for a great season!