TAMPA, Fla. — The Tampa Bay Lightning took the ice Wednesday night looking to even the Stanley Cup Final at two games apiece, giving them momentum when the series returns to Colorado.
But it wasn't to be as the Lightning couldn't defend their home ice, losing 3-2 in overtime. Colorado completely dominated the overtime period and lead the series 3-1 over the Lightning. The Avs can now clinch the Stanley Cup on Friday night in Denver.
Before the game started, the Colorado Avalanche announced Darcy Kuemper would be back in goal after he was pulled for giving up five goals to the Lightning in Game 3. The Avalanche also said Nazem Kadri would be back in the lineup after not playing for 18 days, though he would be playing with a cast.
When the puck finally dropped, the Lightning wasted no time getting on the scoreboard when Anthony Cirelli put Tampa Bay on the board pushing a rebound shot past Kuemper, making the score 1-0 just 36 seconds into the game.
Kuemper lost his mask on the scoring play, but it was a legal shot since Cirelli's scoring opportunity was immediate after the mask came off.
The Lightning kept hammering away at the Avalanche, putting up 7 shots through the first 11 minutes while holding Colorado to just a single shot.
As the first period moved past the halfway point, Nick Paul had a shot on goal when he grabbed an Avalanche turnover in the defensive zone, but he couldn't get it past Kuemper and the score remained 1-0 as the clock wound down past 7 minutes to go in the period.
Tampa's defense was answering the bell through the early part of the first period, blocking seven shots in the first 14 minutes. This comes after the Lighting blocked 27 shots in Game 3.
As Tampa continued to hammer shots at Kuemper, he was holding strong having allowed just one goal on 12 shots through the first 17 minutes of the game. That's when Colorado's Darren Helm was hit with a 2-minute penalty for interference, putting Tampa on the power play.
Colorado's excellent penalty-killing unit again turned Tampa away as the Lightning's power-play unit continued to struggle to get anything to go their way. The Avs' unit was so good they held Tampa to just a couple of shots on goal during the power play.
Tampa managed two more shots on goal as the clock hit all zeroes to end the first period with Tampa ahead, 1-0.
The Lightning outshot Colorado 17-4 and blocked another 12 shots in the first period. Kuemper was holding strong despite the early goal. How long Kuemper could continue to play lights out would be the key to the Avs' chances moving forward.
Tampa came out hot again in the second period, pushing the offense against Kuemperwho continued to hold strong for Colorado. The Avs returned the favor and the Big Cat for Tampa, goalie Andrei Vasilevskiy made his presence known when he stopped a shot off Cale Makar.
With 16:03 to go in the second period, Colorado went on the power play when Tampa's Victor Hedman was sent to the penalty box for interference.
And just like almost every other power-play opportunity, Colorado was able to put the puck past Vasileskiy to tie the game at 1-1. The Avs goal was scored by Gabriel Landeskog who has gotten on the board in previous games as well.
A few minutes later, Tampa Bay was put on the power play when Colorado's Bowen Byram was hit with a hooking penalty and sent to the box with 13:48 left in the second period.
After the Lighting were unable to get anything going on the power play, the teams were going back and forth until Tampa Bay defenseman Victor Hedman put the proverbial biscuit in the basket, giving the Lightning a 2-1 lead with nine minutes left in the second period.
Right after the Lightning goal, Tampa's captain, Steven Stamkos was hit with a two-minute hooking penalty sending him to the box and bringing out Colorado's deadly power-play unit.
The Lightning's penalty kill unit held on until the power play ended with the Big Cat snagging a shot from Colorado's Nathan McKinnon.
Colorado increased its shots on goal throughout the second period, narrowing the gap to 24-18 in shots with four minutes left in the period.
Tampa didn't get through the period unscathed as center Anthony Cirelli suffered some sort of arm injury and skated right off the ice and into the locker room as the final minute wound off the clock. With Brayden Point unlikely to return in the series, if Cirelli is injured and out, Tampa would be down two centers moving forward.
At the end of two, Tampa held a 2-1 lead as they worked to even the series 2-2 against the Avs.
Tampa Bay got good news as they came out on the ice, Cirelli was back on the ice and ready to play the third period but didn't take the initial faceoff for the Lightning.
Colorado came out with renewed vigor in the third period as they pushed the speed of the game, trying to get Tampa out of their comfort zone. And just 3 minutes into the third, Colorado's Nico Sturm tipped it into the goal to tie the game 2-2.
Sturm's goal was the first even-strength goal Tampa had allowed since the first round of the playoffs.
Tampa struggled to get the puck out of the defensive end and couldn't convert when Kuemper lost his stick with about 15 minutes to go in the game.
The crowd at Amalie Arena was as nervous as a long-tail cat in a room full of rocking chairs as the clock went under 14 minutes to go in the game.
For the next ten minutes, neither team could get on the board. The Lightning and Avalanche exchanged shots on goal and neither was able to get anything past the respective goalies, again leaving the Tampa crowd on the edge of their seats.
Tampa Bay went on the offensive as the clock wound down under a minute, but couldn't get anything past Kuemper. The clock hit all zeroes and just like Game 1, the Lightning and Avalanche headed for overtime.
It's the second overtime game thus far in the Stanley Cup Final, which was the first time that had happened since 2016 and just the 15th time it happened in the history of the Stanley Cup Final.
Colorado started the overtime in high gear putting the stress on Tampa's defense early and often. Still, Tampa wouldn't go away in the extra period as both teams kept jockeying for the winning shot.
Vasilevskiy made a huge save for the Lightning on a Colorado breakaway as the clock went under 15 minutes in overtime. It was his 12th save on 13 breakaways in the 2022 playoffs.
Tampa was just a step behind as the teams kept going up and down the ice in the overtime. Colorado wanted the goal quickly and Tampa stayed true to their gameplan as the overtime ticked below 13 minutes.
The Big Cat was almost single-handedly keeping the Lightning in the game as he made save after save against Colorado's attack in overtime. The Lightning struggled to get the puck out of the Colorado offensive zone. The Avs hit the post twice in the overtime as the clock went under ten minutes.
And then out of nowhere, the Avalanche put the puck right past Vasilevskiy and Colorado took Game 4 and a 3-1 lead in the series.
Vasilevskiy did everything he could to keep the Lightning in the game, but Tampa was completely outplayed in overtime by Colorado in every facet of the game until the final shot went in.