(Denver) It was supposed to be the duel between Cale Makar and Victor Hedman. Between Nathan MacKinnon and Steven Stamkos. It was to be the series where the Avalanche players would practically have to physically attack Andrei Vasilevskiy to score.
Updated at 0:31
On Tuesday during media day, the aforementioned players had a podium all to themselves, so much attention were they generating. Meanwhile, Andre Burakovsky and Valeri Nichushkin shared the same table because they were a little higher on everyone’s priority list.
In the end, it was Burakovsky and Nichushkin who settled that. The first scored on an assist from the second, after just 1 min 23 s in overtime, and the Colorado Avalanche defeated the Tampa Bay Lightning 4-3, to open the Stanley Cup Final.
“I lived it, I knew what to expect, I understand the challenge, launched Burakovsky, the hero of the day, after the match. But I still had a little trouble sleeping last night and I woke up at 6 am this morning, I was too excited for the game. »
Immediate response from his captain, Gabriel Landeskog, sitting next to him for the press briefing: “You should get up at 6 a.m. every game morning! »
If Burakovsky grabbed attention because of the winning goal, it was Nichushkin who was a true force of nature for the winners. He buzzed all night, scored the team’s second goal in addition to shooting the post, and finished the night with a goal, an assist and six shots. For Russian, old choice of 1er tour that was praised by Jaromir Jagr when he arrived in the NHL at 18, in 2013, it is the result of an unexpected outbreak. In the shadow of his illustrious teammates, he scored 52 points in 62 games and continues his good work in the playoffs.
“He’s had an incredible season, he’s made the difference,” said head coach Jared Bednar.
Meanwhile, the Makars and MacKinnon certainly had their good moments with the puck, but it felt like the hard-hitting checks from Josh Manson or the blocked shots and turnovers caused by Artturi Lehkonen were what gave the boost. energy to a crowd that had been waiting for this return to the final for 21 years.
“I hope I wasn’t alone, but I was nervous all day,” admitted Landeskog. But when I arrived for the warm-up, I saw the crowd and felt the energy of the fans. »
Much has been made of the experience gap between the two teams. Before this game, the Lightning players totaled 204 games in the Stanley Cup Final, against 29 for those of the Avalanche. Finally, the nervousness, fully assumed by the winners, may have had a positive effect.
The confidence of the Lightning
In the opposing camp, we guess that it is not panic. The Lightning have now started three of their four series with a loss, the only exception being the sweep to the Florida Panthers in the second round. This is perhaps where experience can weigh in the balance.
“We have a lot of confidence in this locker room,” assured Patrick Maroon. Here is one who has lived it all, he who is going there for a fourth Stanley Cup in a row.
Despite the result against them, Jon Cooper’s men showed they had the confidence of champions by not collapsing despite a chaotic start. It started with Vasilevskiy, weak on the first two goals, and who almost gave his compatriot Nichushkin a gift at the start of the match. But like his teammates, the goalkeeper got up.
“Andrei didn’t have a bad start. They had tons of chances early in the game, we took penalties and he stood up, he gave us a chance to win,” Stamkos said.
Cooper probably summed up the evening best. “There are positive signs in this game. But the best team won. We give them the credit.
“We are really far from having played our best match, and it was still close. »