It took overtime, but the Colorado Avalanche have a 1-0 series lead in the Stanley Cup Final after a thrilling Game 1 finish. Andre Burakovsky played hero for the Avalanche by netting the game-winner, finishing off a strong effort by his team on home ice.
The Avs came out with their hair on fire in the first period, as they jumped out to a 3-1 lead and put the Bolts on their heels. Tampa Bay, one of the most poised teams in the NHL, struck back in the second period to tie the game, scoring two goals in just 48 seconds from Ondrej Palat and Mikhail Sergachev.
Colorado thoroughly dominated the third period, but Andrei Vasilevskiy helped Tampa Bay escape regulation and get to overtime. However, the Lightning couldn’t survive the barrage from the Avs much longer. After a bad turnover by Lightning defenseman Victor Hedman, Valeri Nichuskin slid Burakovsky a beautiful feed, and he ripped a shot into a gaping cage.
Tampa Bay will try to even up the series in Game 2, which is set for 8:00 pm ET on Saturday night. Before then, here are a few takeaways from Colorado’s Game 1 victory.
Avalanche Overwhelm Lightning
The list of teams that can make the Lightning look like they are in over their heads is very short. In fact, it might be just one team long. The Avalanche were clearly the better team in Game 1. It’s as simple as that.
No matter how you slice it, the Avs took it to the back-to-back fields in the opening game. At five-on-five, Colorado generated 2.60 expected goals to Tampa Bay’s 1.05, per Natural Stat Trick. When it comes to special teams, the Avalanche had the edge there, too. Colorado converted on one of its three power plays and got some quality chances on the other two. Meanwhile, the Avs’ penalty kill unit completely silenced a lethal Lightning man advantage on all three opportunities. The Lightning are a resilient team — you don’t win two straight Stanley Cups without that quality — but they need a much better effort in Game 2 to get this series tied heading back to Tampa.
Concern about Kuemper
From the numbers laid out above, as well as the total shot count, one would think Colorado ran Tampa Bay out of the building. Instead, the Avs needed overtime, and one bounce the other way could have put them in a 1-0 hole to start this series.
That’s because the one area of concern for Colorado in this game was between the pipes. Darcy Kuemper faced just 23 shots in three-plus periods of hockey, and he allowed three goals. When you look at the underlying numbers, it’s even worse. Tampa Bay only created 1.54 expected goals in all situations, which means Kuemper allowed 1.46 goals above expected in this game alone. If it wasn’t already clear that the Lightning holds a big advantage in net, it certainly is now. It remains to be seen how many times the Avs can keep overcoming underwhelming starts from their goalie.
Nichuskin steps up
The leader in expected goals for the Avalanche in Game 1 was not Nathan MacKinnon, Mikko Rantanen or Cale Makar. Instead, it was Nichuskin, who generated 0.74 expected goals with all of that coming at five-on-five.
Part of the reason the Avs are so lethal is because their depth is unrivaled by any team in the league, and Nichuskin is a great example of that. He got his sixth goal of this postseason when he fired a shot through the legacy of Vasilevskiy in the first period, and he assisted on the game-winning goal by having the presence of mind to pass up a decent shot to give his teammate, Burakovsky , a great one. After falling flat in Colorado’s second-round exit a year ago, Nichuskin has elevated his game this year, and that makes the Avalanche a much more dangerous squad.