Stanley Cup final: Avalanche vs Lightning Game 3 live updates
The Lightning seek their first win of the Stanley Cup final as the series moves to Tampa for the next two games, starting with Game 3 tonight at Amalie Arena.
The Avalanche lead the best-of-seven series two games to none.
The Lightning fell behind early in both games, rallying from a two-goal deficit to force overtime before falling 4-3 in Game 1, then getting outplayed from start to finish in a 7-0 loss in Game 2.
Star center Brayden Point, who missed 10 games with a lower-body injury before returning for the first two games of the Cup final, will be a game-time decision, coach Jon Cooper said.
The Lightning seem to understand the problem.
“It’s certainly the fastest team that we played,” captain Steven Stamkos said of the Avalanche after the Bolts’ 7-0 loss Saturday in Game 2. “We’ve got to find a way to slow them down.”
Colorado has jumped on Tampa Bay from the start in the first two games, using its forecheck to build 3-1 and 3-0 first-period leads. That’s part of the problem.
The Lightning are 6-1 this postseason when they score the first goal and 6-6 when they don’t. The early deficits in Colorado forced Tampa Bay to chase the games and take more chances, which played right into the Avs’ hands.
The Avalanche have been aggressive in the neutral zone, breaking up plays, stealing pucks and making quick passes to create odd-man breaks and high-quality scoring chances.
Stamkos suggested putting pucks into areas where Tampa Bay can neutralize Colorado’s speed and avoiding turnovers, which feed the Avs’ transition game. Which sounds a lot like dumping and chasing the puck.
It’s worked in the past. If the Lightning can get pucks behind the Avalanche defense and win them back in the corners, they can start their cycle game, get bodies and shots to the net, get into goaltender Darcy Kuemper’s sight lines and work to create rebound opportunities.
By maintaining possession in the Colorado zone, Tampa Bay can force the Avalanche’s top offensive players to defend in their own zone and limit their opportunities to play on offense.
Forward Nick Paul said after a 4-3 loss in Game 1 that neutralizing the Avalanche’s speed means getting bodies on the their skaters, whether it’s a hard hit or even just a nudge, and staying above them on the ice.
Having the next two games at home should help, too, with the last change allowing head coach Jon Cooper to set matchups on the ice. We’ve seen previously this postseason what the Brayden Point (against Toronto) and Anthony Cirelli lines (against Florida and New York) can do when tasked with stopping an opponent’s top trio.
If all else fails, the Lightning eventually might have to consider matching speed with speed.
Cooper has seemed reluctant to deviate from the structure that has helped the Lightning to victories in their past 11 playoff series, and who can blame him? It has worked in series victories over the similarly high-scoring Maple Leafs and Panthers.
But if that system is making them too stagnant against the Avalanche, do the Lightning need to unshackle their fastest and most creative players?
Do they need to let Point and Victor Hedman skate with the puck up the ice? Will more motion and less passes result in fewer turnovers? Do they give Nikita Kucherov a bit more freedom to freelance?
The Lightning have the skill to match the Avalanche. Is it time to unleash it?
That hasn’t been their M.O. these past three postseasons. They’ve won two Cups and put themselves in position to compete for a third by playing responsibly with the puck, committing to team defense and sticking to their structure.
But, somehow, they’ve got to find a way to generate more shots in this series. And desperate times sometimes call for desperate measures.
Are we there already? Not yet, but we’re getting close. We’ll learn a lot more tonight in Game 3.
Game night scene