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Bolts bounce back beating Avs 6-2 in Game 3

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Stanley Cup Avalanche Lightning Hockey
Posted at 9:09 PM, Jun 20, 2022
and last updated 2022-06-21 07:42:56-04

TAMPA, Fla. — If the Colorado Avalanche thought they had the Tampa Bay Lightning on the ropes, the two-time defending champs had a message for them in Game 3, we're still the champs.

The Lightning pounded the Avalanche 6-2 in Game 3 at the Amalie Arena in Tampa. It was a completely different Lightning team than the one that was blown out in Game 2 and could signify a completely new Stanley Cup Final if Tampa Bay can duplicate this effort in Game 4 Wednesday.

The puck dropped a little before 8:20 p.m. and both teams were off to the races as Tampa sought to prevent another early onslaught by the Avs.

Lightning goalie Andrei Vasilevskiy was up to an early challenge when the Avs got a shot with most of the net open on a rebound. The Big Cat showed tremendous flexibility and push to keep the puck out of the net as the Avs squandered a golden opportunity.

Then just as the Tampa Bay crowd was settling in, Valeri Nichuskin easily beat Vasy when the Lightning failed to clear the puck out of the zone to give Colorado a 1-0 lead. But, Tampa Bay challenged the goal saying Colorado was offside.

The video showed the puck cross across the blue line and Colorado was indeed offside which wiped the Avalanche goal off the board, making the game 0-0 again.

Gianna Mancha
Tampa Bay Lightning center Anthony Cirelli (71) celebrates with Tampa Bay Lightning left wing Pat Maroon (14) after scoring during the first period of Game 3 of the NHL hockey Stanley Cup Final against the Colorado Avalanche on Monday, June 20, 2022, in Tampa, Fla. (AP Photo/Phelan M. Ebenhack)

A minute or so later, Colorado was slapped with an interference penalty on Steven Stamkos, putting the Lightning's much-maligned power-play unit on the ice for two minutes. Tampa Bay was 0-6 up to this point in the Stanley Cup Final and nothing changed with this unit.

The Lightning was hit with a penalty for high-sticking with 12:51 putting the game into 4-on-4 action and then Colorado would have a 1:12 power play opportunity of their own.

And unlike Tampa Bay, the Colorado Avalanche made the Lightning pay when they were short-handed as Gabriel Landeskog put it past The Big Cat to give the Avs a 1-0 lead with a little more than eleven minutes to go in the first period.

GALLERY: Game 3 of the Stanley Cup Final

A few minutes later, Colorado was called for a holding penalty, putting the Lightning's power-play unit back on the ice as it tries to redeem itself and finally get on the board. But it wasn't to be as the Lightning whiffed on passes and couldn't keep the puck in their zone consistently as both teams went back to full strength.

Then just as soon as Lightning fans were getting down, Anthony Cirelli powered a break down the ice and snuck it past Kuemper to tie the game. Cirelli skated back to the bench and yelled, "Let's Go Blue!"

Cirelli's goal was the first by the Lightning in more than 80 minutes of on-ice time.

But Tampa didn't waste any time getting on the board again as Stamkos set up Ondrei Palat with a perfect pass to give him an open shot that he easily converted. That gave Tampa Bay its first lead of the Stanley Cup Final, 2-1.

Tampa's crowd came to life on the Palat goal after being largely quiet through the first 15 minutes of action.

But Tampa suffered a potentially critical injury as Nick Paul limped off the ice with a little more than three minutes to go in the first period.

As all eyes turned toward Paul, Tampa was playing its game and had the lead 2-1.

The Lightning looked to continue their hot start and did just that when Nick Paul, who was back on the ice, put the biscuit in the basket less than 90 seconds into the second period. The goal electrified the Tampa crowd as the Lightning kept the push going.

As the clock ticked under 16 minutes, Colorado went on the power play and Landeskog powered his second goal of the night, making the score 3-2. It was the latest example of Tampa's penalty kill unit being completely outmatched by Colorado.

Lightning struck again with 12:08 to go in the second period when Nikita Kucherov fired a perfect centering pass to Stamkos and he hit a slapshot right past Colorado's goalie to once again give Tampa a two-goal lead, 4-2.

A pair of penalties made it 4-on-4 hockey again for two minutes as the game passed the midway point.

Both teams were back at full strength with just under nine minutes to go as Pat Maroon punched it past Kuemper to give the Lightning a three-goal advantage, 5-2.

The fifth goal of the night sparked a change at goalie for the Avalanche as Kuemper was sent to the bench after giving up 5 goals on 21 shots. He was replaced by Pavell Francouz for the Avs.

As the clock ticked down to just 5:38 to go in the second period, Colorado was assessed a delay of game penalty bringing the Lightning's power-play unit back on the ice for two minutes.

And that's when the power-play unit for Tampa finally got on the board after being 0-16 when Corey Perry put a rebound shot right into the goal giving the Lightning a 6-2 advantage with five minutes to go in the second period.

Stanley Cup Avalanche Lightning Hockey
Tampa Bay Lightning left wing Pat Maroon (14) scores past Colorado Avalanche goaltender Darcy Kuemper (35) during the second period of Game 3 of the NHL hockey Stanley Cup Final on Monday, June 20, 2022, in Tampa, Fla. (AP Photo/Chris O'Meara)

Tampa Bay was able to fend off a Colorado power play as the clock ticked under two minutes in the second period. The clock wound down with the teams nearly coming to blows spawning a double-penalty that will start the third period in 4-on-4 action.

It was a four-goal period for Tampa Bay as both teams skated to the locker room for the second intermission.

The third period started with the aforementioned 4-on-4 play before giving way to full-strength action as both teams went back and forth. Tampa Bay began to lean heavily on the defense after the second-period onslaught as they protected a four-goal lead.

Tampa managed just one shot on goal through half of the third period as both teams seemed to be checked out and looking ahead to Game 4 on Wednesday night.

Forward Nikita Kucherov went down awkwardly thanks to a cross-check from the Avalanche's Devon Towes to give the Lightning a 5-on-3 advantage for 26 seconds before a longer power play after that time ticked away.

Kucherov skated off the ice and struggled to the locker room after his awkward landing raising the question of his health heading into Game 4.

After the game, Lightning Coach Jon Cooper was asked about Towes' cross-check, which, according to ESPN, Lightning defenseman Victor Hedman described as a "dangerous play."

"It’s a contact game, but guys know what they’re doing, you know," Cooper responded. "Smart, savvy players know what they’re doing with their stick, and we all saw it, so we’ll see.”

Stanley Cup Avalanche Lightning Hockey
Tampa Bay Lightning right wing Nikita Kucherov (86) checks Colorado Avalanche defenseman Josh Manson (42) during the third period of Game 3 of the NHL hockey Stanley Cup Final on Monday, June 20, 2022, in Tampa, Fla. (AP Photo/Chris O'Meara)

Tampa was unable to do anything with the penalty as they managed the lead.

Colorado pulled their goalie for a minute to give themselves a 6-4 advantage until the end of its power play which Tampa was able to kill off without giving up another goal.

But before the game could end, Tampa's Ross Colton and Colorado's Logan O'Connor dropped the gloves and began throwing haymakers at each other for a quick fight before the end of Game 3, showing just how much the two teams don't like each other.

As the clock wound down, the question of Kucherov and Brayden Point's health hung over Tampa's victory. Still, the Lightning showed they're not going to go quietly as they cut the Avs' series lead to 2-1.

Cooper said his team finds success when it practices better puck management.

“If you give them an inch, they’re going to take a mile," he said. "So, you’ve gotta take away the inches.”

He also credited the leadership of veterans like Hedman and Stamkos and the resilience of Vasilevskiy after the deflating Game 2 defeat.

Stamkos said his team exhibited better "attention to detail" and execution of its game plan in the Game 3 win. Leading early also helped, he said.

"The first couple games we were down early in the game and we were chasing, and it feels like it’s — you’re just chasing the puck the whole game," Stamkos said. "When you have the lead, you have some more confidence as a group. You know, you see some plays start to go your way, and all of a sudden, you get your feet beneath you and it’s almost like you just feel lighter out there.”

Despite the victory, Stamkos said his team can still make improvements ahead of Game 4, like staying more disciplined on special teams against a sharp, dangerous Avalanche power play.