It took overtime, but the Colorado Avalanche have a 1-0 series lead in the Stanley Cup Finals after a thrilling end to Game 1. Andre Burakovsky played the hero for the Avalanche by scoring the game-winner, finishing off a solid effort from his home team.
The Avs came out with their hair on fire in the first period, as they took a 3-1 lead and put the Bolts on their heels. Tampa Bay, one of the most balanced teams in the NHL, fought back in the second period to tie the game, scoring two goals in just 48 seconds from Ondrej Palat and Mikhail Sergachev.
Colorado completely dominated the third period, but Andrei Vasilevskiy helped Tampa Bay escape regulation and go into overtime. However, the Lightning couldn’t survive the Avs’ barrage any longer. After a poor turnover from Lightning defender Victor Hedman, Valeri Nichuskin slipped a nice pass to Burakovsky, and he fired a shot into a gaping cage.
Tampa Bay will attempt to tie the series in Game 2, which is scheduled for 8:00 p.m. ET Saturday night. Before that, here are some takeaways from Colorado’s Game 1 win.
Avalanche overwhelms lightning
The list of teams that can make the Lightning look in over their heads is very short. In fact, it might just be one team. The Avalanche were clearly the better team in Game 1. It’s as simple as that.
No matter how you slice it, the Avs won against back-to-back champions in the opener. At five-to-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 also had the advantage there. Colorado converted on one of its three power plays and got quality chances on the other two. Meanwhile, the Avs’ penalty elimination unit completely silenced a deadly Lightning advantage on all three opportunities. The Lightning are a resilient team — you don’t win back-to-back Stanley Cups without that quality — but they need a much better effort in Game 2 to tie this series heading back to Tampa.
Concern about Kuemper
Based on the numbers listed above, along with the total number of shots, you’d think Colorado kicked Tampa Bay out of the building. Instead, the Avs needed overtime, and a rebound the other way could have put them in a 1-0 hole to start this series.
That’s because the only concern for Colorado in this game was between the pipes. Darcy Kuemper has faced just 23 shots in more than three hockey periods and has allowed three goals. When you look at the underlying numbers, it’s even worse. Tampa Bay created just 1.54 goals expected in all situations, meaning Kuemper allowed 1.46 goals above expectation in that one game. If it wasn’t already clear that the Lightning had a big advantage in goal, it certainly is now. It remains to be seen how many times the Avs can continue to ride out disappointing starts from their goalie.
Nichuskin takes over
The expected goal leader 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, all at five-for-five.
Part of the reason the Avs are so deadly is that their depth is unmatched by any team in the league, and Nichuskin is a prime example of that. He got his sixth goal of this playoffs when he fired a shot through the legs of Vasilevskiy in the first period, and he assisted on the winning goal with the presence of mind to let a decent shot through to give his teammate, Burakovsky, a great. After falling flat in Colorado’s second-round exit a year ago, Nichuskin has upped his game this year, which makes the Avalanche a much more dangerous team.