Speedy Colorado Avalanche zoom to 2-0 series lead over Bolts

Jun 18, 2022, 11:28 PM | Updated: Jun 19, 2022, 11:49 am
Colorado Avalanche defenseman Cale Makar (8) scores on Tampa Bay Lightning goaltender Andrei Vasile...

Colorado Avalanche defenseman Cale Makar (8) scores on Tampa Bay Lightning goaltender Andrei Vasilevskiy (88) during the third period in Game 2 of the NHL hockey Stanley Cup Final, Saturday, June 18, 2022, in Denver. (AP Photo/John Locher)

(AP Photo/John Locher)

              Tampa Bay Lightning center Ross Colton (79) and Colorado Avalanche defenseman Cale Makar (8) try to stay upright after a collision during the second period in Game 2 of the NHL hockey Stanley Cup Final on Saturday, June 18, 2022, in Denver. (AP Photo/John Locher)
            
              Colorado Avalanche center Darren Helm (43) collides with Tampa Bay Lightning right wing Nikita Kucherov during the second period in Game 2 of the NHL hockey Stanley Cup Final on Saturday, June 18, 2022, in Denver. (AP Photo/David Zalubowski)
            
              Colorado Avalanche defenseman Cale Makar (8) scores on Tampa Bay Lightning goaltender Andrei Vasilevskiy (88) during the third period in Game 2 of the NHL hockey Stanley Cup Final, Saturday, June 18, 2022, in Denver. (AP Photo/John Locher)

DENVER (AP) — Marinate on this for a quick moment: Colorado has 11 goals in the Stanley Cup Final so far, and not one from star forward Nathan MacKinnon.

The always-pushing-the-pace Avalanche are clicking on all cylinders, even with MacKinnon’s scoring held in check and Nazem Kadri sidelined by a thumb injury.

This is a bunch that comes at you from all directions — no matter the name on the back of the jersey. They’re a constant blur of burgundy-and-blue that gets fast break after fast break, scoring chance after scoring chance.

Along with it, they have a 2-0 lead over Tampa Bay in the best-of-seven series, with Game 3 in Tampa on Monday night.

“Certainly the fastest team that we played,” Tampa Bay forward Steven Stamkos said. “We’ve got to find a way to slow them down.”

How, precisely? “Putting pucks in areas where you can neutralize their speed and not turning the puck over — not giving them freebies,” Stamkos said. “It’s no secret they’re a very fast team.”

Colorado has scored at least seven goals four times in this playoff run, the latest a 7-0 rout in Game 2. They’re one of only seven NHL teams who have recorded that many seven-or-more goal games in one postseason.

On top of that, the Avalanche became the first NHL team to tally 11 or more goals through two games of the final since they themselves accomplished the feat in 1996.

Coach Jared Bednar chalks the offensive fireworks up to one big reason — rest. While the Lightning had to grind through a tough six-game series with the New York Rangers, the Avalanche got an extended breather after a sweep of Edmonton.

“We’ve been trying all year to balance the work/rest ratio,” Bednar explained. “It’s important. … Our team just seems to be really focused, dialed in and they’re hungry and they want to win.”

A different player rises to the occasion each game, too. Like Andre Burakovsky scoring the OT winner in Game 1. Or Valeri Nichushkin and Cale Makar each recording two goals in Game 2. They’ve found a way to score early and often on Tampa Bay’s Andrei Vasilevskiy, who’s one of the best goaltenders on the planet.

Speed really can make a difference.

“We think that’s how we have to beat them,” Avalanche defenseman Josh Manson said of pushing the tempo. “For us, we can’t think that we’re under their skin. We can’t think anything like that. We’ve just got to keep going and just have that mentality that doesn’t stop.”

Colorado’s performing all the gritty tasks as well. Take Darren Helm, for example: He leads the playoffs with 84 hits, including 22 in the finals. He also had a goal in Game 2, his second of the postseason.

“A beast,” Makar said of the veteran center. “He’s so driven.”

There’s also Darcy Kuemper and his 16-save shutout Saturday night. He joined Patrick Roy as the Avalanche goaltenders who’ve recorded a shutout in the Stanley Cup Final (Roy accomplished the feat in 1996 and twice in 2001 as Colorado captured its two Stanley Cup trophies).

“They’re playing at an elite level right now,” Lightning coach Jon Cooper said. “We are not. … We have to elevate our play.”

MacKinnon has two assists so far in the series. He’s realized that he can’t always be in the starring role. He can, though, star in the role he’s in. In this case, it’s winning faceoffs, dishing out hard hits and being such an offensive force it requires Tampa Bay to keep constant track of him.

“Goals, it doesn’t matter for him,” Manson said. “Whether Mac is scoring or not, he’s driving the play, he’s wearing guys down, he’s forechecking, he’s above pucks. He’s playing unbelievable.”

Same goes for Mikko Rantanen, who had three assists in Game 2 for the Avs. It was his fourth straight home game in which he recorded two or more points. That matches the Quebec/Colorado franchise record in a playoff year, which was set by Nordiques great Peter Stastny in 1982 and equaled by MacKinnon in 2020, according to NHL Stats.

“We know as a team that we get rewarded offensively when we play our best game defensively,” said Makar, whose team is 7-0 on the road so far in these playoffs. “It’s just coming to that kind of realization every single night. They’re obviously a great team.

“They’re going to throw everything they have at us the next game. We just have to be ready — and ready to bring it back on them as well.”

___

More AP NHL: https://apnews.com/hub/nhl and https://twitter.com/AP_Sports

Copyright © The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

AP

FILE -LeBron James speaks at the opening ceremony for the I Promise School in Akron, Ohio, Monday, ...
Associated Press

LeBron’s off-court legacy complements his basketball success

Mya Smiley is a student at the University of Akron thanks to an assist from LeBron James, and she is determined upon graduation to become a social worker that helps foster kids. Her education and career path would not have been possible, the sophomore says, were it not for a scholarship and counseling that she […]
1 day ago
Saint Mary's head coach Randy Bennett, center, is congratulated by his players after notching his 5...
Associated Press

Bennett earns 500th win as No. 18 Saint Mary’s beats USF

MORAGA, Calif. (AP) — Randy Bennett earned his 500th win as Saint Mary’s coach when the 18th-ranked Gaels beat San Francisco 68-59 on Thursday night for their 11th straight victory. Alex Ducas had 18 points and Aidan Mahaney scored 13 of his 17 in the second half to lead the Gaels (20-4, 9-0 West Coast […]
1 day ago
Los Angeles Clippers' Nicolas Batum fouls Milwaukee Bucks' Giannis Antetokounmpo during the first h...
Associated Press

Antetokounmpo scores 54 points, Bucks beat Clippers 106-105

MILWAUKEE (AP) — Giannis Antetokounmpo celebrated his most famous 50-point performance by ordering 50 chicken nuggets at a Chick-fil-A drive-through the next day. He already has an idea how to commemorate reaching that plateau for the third time in the last month. Antetokounmpo scored 20 of his 54 points in the fourth quarter and the […]
1 day ago
Duke coach Kara Lawson directs the team during the first half of an NCAA college basketball game ag...
Associated Press

Duke women’s coach Lawson says men’s ball used vs. FSU

Duke coach Kara Lawson said her team played with a men’s basketball for the first half of a loss to Florida State last Sunday. The 16th-ranked Blue Devils lost to the Seminoles 70-57 in Tallahassee, Florida — the team’s second Atlantic Coast Conference loss of the season. After her team beat Pittsburgh 53-44 on Thursday, […]
1 day ago
Golden State Warriors center James Wiseman, front, pulls in a rebound in front of Denver Nuggets fo...
Associated Press

Murray, Jokic lead charge as Nuggets beat Warriors 134-117

DENVER (AP) — Jamal Murray just nodded when asked if this might be the most confident he’s ever been. Nothing else really needed to be said. Murray had 33 points and Nikola Jokic recorded his 17th triple-double of the season, leading the Denver Nuggets to a 134-117 win over the short-handed Golden State Warriors on […]
1 day ago
Dallas Mavericks guard Spencer Dinwiddie (26) battles New Orleans Pelicans forward Larry Nance Jr. ...
Associated Press

Mavs hang on after Doncic hurt, hand Pels 10th straight loss

DALLAS (AP) — The Dallas Mavericks barely held on after leading by 27 points when Luka Doncic exited the game with a right heel injury on a hard fall. The New Orleans Pelicans thought their one chance to finish the rally and end a long losing streak was taken away by the officials, who acknowledged […]
1 day ago
Speedy Colorado Avalanche zoom to 2-0 series lead over Bolts