After controversial Avalanche goal on the cusp of winning the Stanley Cup

TAMPA, Florida. – The game that took the Colorado Avalanche to the edge of winning its first Stanley Cup in more than two decades ended a minute or two early, and the Hockey Hall of Famers behind the freight elevator at Amalia Arena were staring straight ahead. descended seven spans to the level of ice.

There was not the slightest hint on his face of what he had just seen: the disappearing puck, the confusion that followed, the ensuing euphoria, or what it meant to him, the man who mustered the juggernaut of these NHL playoffs.

Before Game 4 of the Finals on Wednesday night, it was he, Joe Sakic, now the Avalanche’s general manager, who scored the franchise’s most memorable goal this millennium. He conceded the award – apparently fortunately – to Nazem Kadri, whose first shot fooled everyone, including Lightning goaltender Andrey Vasilevsky, on-ice officials and the unaccustomed home crowd at Tampa.

When the puck was finally seen in the net, it proved not only a 3-2 overtime victory for the Colorados, but a convincing truth in this series and this playoff. The Lightning may have the integrity and tenacity of a two-time defending champion, but the Colorado were an excellent team.

The Avalanche played 18 playoff games and won 15. They flooded Nashville, St. Louis. Louis and Edmonton won in the first and third rounds before defeating the Lightning three times, twice in overtime, dominating both overtime periods. Their speed, skill, and dedicated teams—seven goals to Tampa Bay’s one—outclassed Tampa Bay, just as Sakic had hoped they would go to the series. On Wednesday, Kadri and five players signed last year and three of them before the trade deadline, Andrew Cogliano, Niko Sturm and Artturi Lehkonen, totaled six points for a draw and a winning goal.

Colorado could lift the Cup with another win as early as Friday night in Denver, where at a comfortable mile high, the Avalanche beat the Lightning 11-3 in games 1 and 2.

“Obviously they’re probably preaching, ‘They’ve never been here; they’re going to be tight, “and rightfully so,” said Colorado star center Nathan McKinnon. But we’ll be ready to go. We’ve been great under pressure in every playoff, all season long.”

McKinnon is right in every way. Perennial contenders Colorado have not played for the Cup since 2001, when Sakic scored the game-breaker Game 7 vs. Devilsor in conference finals since 2002. That’s despite winning the NHL’s best-performing President’s Trophy last season, despite boasting a collection of fearsome talents including McKinnon, whose progress should be measured by a seismograph, forward Mikko Rantanen and defenseman Norris Trophy” Cale Makar, whose comparisons to Bobby Orr might seem sacrilegious if they were not so striking.

However, sometimes in the grueling Cup race, teams benefit from luck, chance and circumstance, as well as limitless tolerance for pain: from meeting weaker goalkeepers in the first three rounds, to Kadri’s surgically restored right thumb, which regained enough function to deserve it. return to the squad. composition after a three-week absence.

“Just to think that I’m done and then I have hope, sitting here right now, it’s a little surreal,” Kadri said, adding, “This is something I’ve been waiting for all my life.”

In Game 4, they won in the second round against St. Louie, Kadri scored a hat-trick just hours after racist death threats were made by fans over a collision that sent Blues goalkeeper Jordan Binnington out of the series. In another Game 4 on Wednesday, Kadri ended a sequence that began with a brilliant pass from goaltender Darcy Kemper, who, sensing the Lightning were tired, figured out to push the puck on the ice and steer the puck past Vasilevskiy. Or so it seemed.

For several seconds no one celebrated, in a moment that prompted another disappointing final-winning overtime scored by Chicago. Patrick Kane in 2010 win the title over Philadelphia. Then Kadri began nodding, the bench began to empty, and the Lightning began to roll off the ice, their hopes of a third straight title in jeopardy.

Even to reach this milestone, they needed to outlast two of the league’s top-scoring teams, Toronto and Florida, and close a 2-0 series gap to the Rangers while starting every series on the road. To prolong this, the Lightning must stifle an unholy trinity of disappointments: losing in overtime, at home, a goal they didn’t think should have counted.

Arriving at the post-game press conference, Tampa Bay coach John Cooper looked like he needed a drink, a hug, or some alone time in a soundproof room with the umpires—when in fact they were all together. He answered one question before apologizing, sounding defeated as he lauded his team’s accomplishments in an era of salary caps that stifle future dynasties before moving on to a cryptic response challenging the legitimacy of Qadri’s goal.

“This one will sting a lot more than the others,” Cooper said, adding: “You’ll know what I mean when you see the winning goal. And my heart breaks for the players. Because we should probably still play.”

As he reiterated on Thursday, Cooper, a former lawyer, argued based on replays ricocheted on social media: that Colorado had too many people on the ice when Kadri scored the goal, that McKinnon stayed too long, too far from the Avalanche bench when Kadri jumped on it. The league, in a statement released Thursday morning by its hockey operations department, said none of its officials considered it to be a violation and that the call was not subject to video review.

Although he said on Thursday that the team should move on, Cooper naturally never mentioned that the Lightning benefited from a similar lack of challenge last postseason, when they appeared to have an extra player on the ice to score, who ousted Islanders in Game 7 of their semi-final series. In hockey, if not in life, these moments tend to smooth out, and neither the interpretation of the rule nor the vagaries of the puck can negate the authority of Colorado in overtime, when he almost scored a goal on many other occasions.

According to Natural Stat Trick, the Avalanche registered 75 more shots of equal strength than the Lightning. They have 11 more dangerous scoring chances. They hit Tampa Bay across the neutral zone, between the circles and below the goal line.

That’s how they’ve won all season, all playoffs, and if Tampa Bay can’t get the last hit, and then another, then the next time Sakic takes the elevator down onto the ice, he’ll be hoisting the Stanley Cup. .