Avs push Bolts to brink of elimination

by Gary Shelton on June 23, 2022

in general

Hedman put the Bolts ahead./TIM WIRT

Thursday, 4 a.m.

They are down to their final heartbeat. One more loss, and the Tampa Bay Lightning can turn out the lights. One more disappointment, and their season is over.

The Bolts lost a controversial, 3-2 overtime decision to the Colorado Avalanche Wednesday night, a game they needed to tie the Stanley Cup Final series at two games apiece.

All of which means the Lightning have to win the next game, which is in Colorado.

Then they have to win the game after that.

And then they have to win the game after that. That one would also be in Denver.

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Cirelli scored 36 seconds into the game./TIM WIRT

Yeah, it's a tough position, even for a team that has won two straight championships. But the Lightning has never trailed 3-1 in a series before, especially not to a team as fast and relentless as the Avs.

Oh, this one will be remembered as a game when the Avs might have been too fast. Lightning coach Jon Cooper was clearly emotional after the game. He took one question, then inferred there was a problem with the game winning goal by Nazem Kadri, perhaps a too-many-men-on-the-ice violation that was not called.

"I'll speak to you tomorrow," Cooper said. "You're going to see what I mean when you see that goal. My heart breaks for these players because we probably should still be playing. I'll be available tomorrow."

The outburst was rare for Cooper, who normally keeps his voice even and his opinions balanced in his post-game press conferences. But that's the position the Lightning are in. A referee's miscall could be damaging.

"This one’s going to sting much more than others," Cooper said. "It’s going to be hard for me."

If Cooper is right -- and still photos indicate he is -- the play will go down with the infamous officials' calls in finals throughout sports history. But it isn't as if they're going to restart overtime from there. Colorado won't give anything back. It just adds to the burn.

The loss was the Lightning's second overtime loss of the series, and it came after Tampa Bay had leads of 1-0 and 2-1. But once again, special teams failed the Bolts. They are one-for-14 on the power play in the Finals. The Avs are six-for-13.

"We didn’t get it done,” Lightning captain Steven Stamkos said. "The feeling sucks right now, but the series wasn’t won tonight. We know what it feels like to be in their shoes, to have a chance to win at home. It’s not an easy thing to do . It’s a pretty nerve -wracking day.

"For us, we go in and our backs are against the wall. We’ve done it before in these playoffs. We’re going to have to do it again. That’s the mindset we have to  have. We can’t sit here and feel sorry for ourselves. We have to win one game and see what happens."

The Bolts got off to a good start, but perhaps it should have been better. It took a 1-0 lead on Anthony Cirelli's goal 36 seconds into the game, and it outshot the Avs 17-4 in the first period. But goalie Darcy Kuemper -- a game after being pulled -- kept the Avs in the game.

Nathan MacKinnon tied the score for Colorado with a power play goal, but Victor Hedman broke the tie with a goal midway through the period. Hedman played 30:01, had seven shots and took 36 shifts in the game.

For Kadri, the game was his first since June 4. He had been out with a thumb injury.

Again, Colorado tied it in the third on a goal by Andrew Cogliano .

"Down 3-1, we haven’t seen that before," Hedman said. "But one thing I know about this group is that we respond well to adversity. We’re a resilient group and we believe in what we have. We’re going to take it game by game."

What else would you expect them to say? Then again, what other words are there?

Game Five is Friday at 8 p.m.

Vasilevskiy made 34 saves./TIM WIRT

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