How Game 1 will influence the rest of the Stanley Cup Final
- Kristen Shilton is a national NHL reporter for ESPN.
- Greg Wyshynski is ESPN’s senior NHL writer.
The 2022 Stanley Cup Final between the Colorado Avalanche and Tampa Bay Lightning got off to a rollicking start, with Colorado jumping out to a 3-1 lead in the first period, Tampa Bay tying it in the second, and the Avalanche prevailing 4-3 in overtime.
What did we learn in Game 1 and how will it impact the rest of the series? We asked hockey reporters Kristen Shilton and Greg Wyshynski for their biggest takeaways from the Avs’ opening-game victory.
Everything as advertised
If Game 1 is any indication, this Stanley Cup Final could be one for the books.
Colorado dominated the first period. Tampa Bay took over in the second. By the third, the teams were knotted 3-3, and it seemed only fitting for the game to reach overtime.
When Andre Burakovsky scored a great goal for Colorado, it was almost disappointing to see the evening end. The back-and-forth could have gone on forever.
Andrei Vasilevskiy wasn’t at his best to start for Tampa Bay, giving up three goals on 15 shots in the first period, but he bounced back to play like the Vezina Trophy winner the Lightning have relied on in their championship run. Count on him to have a more complete performance in Game 2.
Colorado’s resilience continued to shine through. The Avalanche haven’t become rattled by any ups and downs in the playoffs, and Wednesday night was no exception. Blowing a two-goal lead to the two-time Cup champs might have gotten into a lesser team’s head. Not Colorado. Its entire success in these playoffs has been about staying true to themselves. There was no panic. The Avalanche’s depth came through again.
What’s to come on Saturday when these two face off again? More of the same, please. A lot more. — Kristen Shilton
Lightning have been here before
Losing a Game 1 isn’t exactly a faith-shattering development for the Lightning. On the contrary, it’s downright commonplace in their journey toward a three-peat.
In 11 playoff series since 2020, the Lightning have lost the opening game five times. That includes two of three series in this postseason: The Lightning dropped opening games to the Toronto Maple Leafs and New York Rangers by a combined score of 11-2. Each time, they’ve rallied to win the series.
“I think that’s the great thing about our group: There aren’t many situations that we haven’t been in,” winger Alex Killorn said. “It feels like we’ve seen it all. We’re not worried. We’re confident going forward. But there’s definitely a lot more work to be done.”
The message was clear from the Lightning and their coach after the Game 1 loss to the Avalanche. They felt they “dipped their toe” into the game rather than establishing themselves in the first period, allowing Colorado to take that early two-goal lead.
“Maybe we were just trying to get a feel for them. It’s gotta be the other way around. We have to come out and set the tone. We knew they were going to have a good start. We just weren’t as ready as we’d like to be,” Killorn said.
Coach Jon Cooper tried to accentuate the positives from the effort.
“Anytime you lose Game 1, you’re not feeling great about it. We probably dipped our toes in the water at the beginning of the game and obviously dug ourselves a hole. But there were stretches of that game I liked what we were doing and I stretches I didn’t, and I can say that about Game 1 in Toronto and Game 1 against the Rangers,” the coach said.
“So we have to clean this up. There’s some positive signs in this game, but the right team won the game. So give them credit for pulling it out.”
Mostly, the Lightning felt like they did after those other Game 1 efforts: That their opponent hadn’t seen their best because it was yet to come.
“We’ve got better in us, though. I don’t think by a country mile that we gave them our best game and we still had a chance to pull it out. But to beat a talented team like that … we’ve got a better game in us,” Cooper said.
They better have one. It’s well established that losing Game 1 of a series isn’t ideal. Since the Stanley Cup Final moved to a best-of-seven series in 1939, teams that win Game 1 have an all-time series record of 62-20 (.756). But if the Lightning were to go down 2-0 to the Avalanche, it would mean they’ve dug a two-game hole in the conference finals and Stanley Cup Final. According to ESPN Stats & Info, no team has trailed 2-0 in the final two rounds of the playoffs since the Chicago Black Hawks in 1965. In fact, only four teams in NHL history have done so — and none of them won the Stanley Cup. — Greg Wyshynski
Rust? What rust?
Much was made about the eight days Colorado had off between Game 4 of the Western Conference finals and Game 1 of the Cup Final. It was much ado about nothing.
The Avalanche showed no hint of rust following their long layoff. Sure, the game’s first few shifts were sloppy (on both sides) but looking a little nervous to start the most important game of your season is to be expected.
And that first minute was the last one where Colorado appeared to feel any effect of not playing for more than a week.
The Avalanche used a momentum-shifting penalty kill early in the first period to generate all-important scoring momentum. Just 40 seconds after Josh Manson was released from the box, Gabriel Landeskog made it 1-0. The captain who, at Colorado’s lowest point in 2017, thought the team might never experience this type of success had scored the Cup Final’s first goal.
Less than two minutes after that, Valeri Nichushkin had the Avalanche up 2-0.
The first period was half over. If either team looked sleepy at that point, it wasn’t Colorado. The Avs were up 3-1 by the end of that frame.
Colorado got away from its game in the second period when Tampa Bay scored two quick goals to knot the score, 3-3. But they had fresh enough legs to outlast the Lightning when it mattered most, making the right moves in overtime to set up Burakovsky’s winner.
It was another example of how Colorado’s depth has been — and likely will continue to be — a defining factor in this postseason. The Avalanche have rarely had to rely solely on their stars to produce, and that depth will continue to push Tampa Bay’s buttons and challenge even an all-world netminder like Vasilevskiy. — Shilton
Rally around Vasy
Statistically speaking, this was the worst start of a game that Vasilevskiy has had in his career. It was the first time the Lightning goalie had allowed three goals in the first period. While the 5-on-3 goal by Artturi Lehkonen that made it 3-1 was gift-wrapped by his teammates’ penalties, the first two goals he surrendered where uncharacteristically stoppable: a puck trickling through his pads that Landeskog tapped in and the first five-hole goal he had given up all postseason.
It says everything about Vasilevskiy’s value to the Lightning that postgame comments weren’t just supportive but basically exonerating.
“I thought he was dialed in. The first one, moving screen, so that was a tough one for him. The second one, maybe. But I thought he was probably our best player tonight,” Cooper said.
The fact that Vasilevskiy ended up making 34 saves on the night, steadying himself until Burakovsky’s overtime winner, was a point of pride for his teammates.
“That’s expected. That’s why he’s one of the best in the world. He’s always going to be ready to do well in those situations,” Killorn said.
There’s obvious reason for optimism that Vasilevskiy’s Game 1 hiccups won’t be repeated. In the first game of his four playoff series, Vasilevskiy is 1-3 with a 3.99 goals-against average and a .884 save percentage. In Games 2-7 of those series? Vasilevskiy is 11-3 with a 1.90 GAA and a .939 save percentage.
“Vasy, obviously, is a difference-maker. The best goalie in the world. He’s our best player. He can steal games and he can win games for himself. He almost did it tonight,” defenseman Mikhail Sergachev said. — Wyshynski
Confident in Kuemper?
While Colorado hadn’t played in a while, Darcy Kuemper had endured an even longer absence than his teammates.
The Avalanche goalie’s last appearance was more than two weeks ago, when he suffered an upper-body injury in Game 1 of Colorado’s Western Conference finals matchup against Edmonton on May 30.
Pavel Francouz won four straight in his absence, but it was Kuemper back in the starter’s crease for Game 1 of the Cup Final.
Kuemper had been solid in the postseason (.897 SV%, 2.65 GAA) while battling through injuries in the first round (eye) and the conference finals. He started out with a few sharp saves on Colorado’s early penalty kill, then got beat by Nick Paul after he walked around Erik Johnson and went in alone on Kuemper.
The Lightning’s offensive attack got rolling in the second, and Kuemper struggled to keep up. He made one great save on Nikita Kucherov early in the period, but had no answer when Kucherov teed up Ondrej Palat for a goal, followed less than a minute later by Mikhail Sergachev’s game-tying score.
Kuemper had to be good in the third, and did enough to hold Tampa Bay off, allowing Colorado to come through in overtime. The veteran finished with 20 saves and an .870 save percentage. It’s not a stellar stat line, but the way Kuemper stood tall in the third was enough to give Colorado confidence he’ll carry them through. And knowing Francouz is right behind him and ready to take over should be motivation for Kuemper to step up further in Game 2 (and beyond) when the series inevitably gets tighter and more heated. — Shilton
Brayden Point handles tough ‘jump’
Lightning center Brayden Point knew what he was getting into. He acknowledged before Game 1, his first action since suffering a lower-body injury in Game 7 against the Maple Leafs on May 14, that adapting to the speed and flow of the Stanley Cup playoffs again might take some time.
Point ended up playing 17:59 in Game 1, skating with forwards Nick Paul and Ross Colton. He picked up a secondary assist on Paul’s first period goal, giving him five points in eight postseason games. He saw first-unit power play time.
There were moments when he looked like himself, like when he nearly stickhandled through three Avalanche defenders on a zone entry. There were moments when he seemed a step behind, and he didn’t register a shot attempt in the game. The postgame press conference were a reminder that Point is still working his way back: a scheduled media appearance was scrapped as he received treatment.
That said, the Lightning were both impressed and inspired by his performance.
“He’s a warrior. He’s going to gut it out. It’s just great for him to get back and great for our team to see him back out there. I thought he played fine,” captain Steven Stamkos said.
“Whenever we get him back in our lineup, it’s huge for our team,” Killorn said. “The way he can skate, it’s similar to their players in the sense that he can take over a game.”
Coach Jon Cooper felt it was an important return for his team, now and for the rest of the series.
“Point helps our team. Was Brayden Point the Brayden Point before his injury? Probably not, but that is his first game in well over a month and we played the fastest team in the league,” Cooper said. “So it’s a tough one to jump into, but I thought he did great.” — Wyshynski
Potent penalty kill
Colorado’s penalty kill was outstanding in Game 1, which is a good thing because the Avalanche would have been in trouble otherwise. It also sets up a compelling storyline for the rest of the Cup Final.
Tampa Bay got one of its most dangerous players back on Wednesday in Brayden Point, and he was right back on the team’s top power play unit. Point alone is enough to give Colorado fits.
But the Avalanche’s penalty kill was up to the task. It was aggressive in challenging the Lightning’s shooters. Players made key shot blocks — including a massive one by Jack Johnson on Tampa Bay’s first power play — and got the necessary clears even as the Lightning battled to keep pucks in the zone.
Colorado allowed only two shots on Tampa Bay’s first two attempts. But the Avalanche’s third kill — with the game tied in the third period — was their biggest. When every decision could lead to a go-ahead goal, the Avalanche made every right choice killing off the minor infraction. There’s a fine line between doing too much and not enough, and Colorado’s kill was the perfect balance.
Game 1 was a perfect example of why special teams matter so much in the first place. Colorado and Tampa Bay couldn’t be more evenly matched. Either side could find an edge on the power play one night, or the penalty kill another. That margin for error is wafer thin all over the ice, and what we’ll see in the games to come is how one facet can ultimately make a significant difference in the outcome. — Shilton
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