As Game 1 of the Stanley Cup Finals ended late Wednesday night, with the opening game of the championship series going to overtime, a hero and villain presented themself. For Colorado, Andre Burakovsky, a player commonly thought to be one needed to step up in order to lift the Cup did just that. In defeat, Tampa Bay knew this villain all too well, as Burakovsky had dashed the Lightning’s postseason dreams before.
Before its current chase for a Stanley Cup three-peat, the last time Tampa had won a postseason game was 2018, when it reached the Eastern Conference final against eventual-champion Washington. The Capitals won the first two games of the series on the road, followed by three straight Lightning victories. Washington forced a Game 7 on enemy ice staring down elimination. Enter Burakovsky.
As a first-round pick of Washington in the 2013 NHL Draft, Burakovsky was one of more than a dozen players elevated to the pros by the fertile training of the American Hockey League’s Hershey Bears. Any good form went out the window to begin the 2018 playoffs, missing 10 postseason games with an undisclosed injury. Once back in the lineup, he had calls from fans and the media to be replaced, later admitting to hiring a sports psychologist to break out of the funk. Burakovsky was pointless in the playoffs until Game 7.
Washington captain Alex Ovechkin scored the opening goal of the Stanley Cup qualifier 62 seconds in. From then until Burakovsky got on the score sheet, the Capitals stood back and took the best Tampa’s offense had to offer, with no goal. A bad giveaway by former NHL defender Dan Girardi led to Burakovsky sneaking a shot seven-hole, between Andrei Vasilevskiy’s right arm and leg and into the back of the net.
Vasilevskiy has improved mightily in the four years since that game and it didn’t help his cause that the Lightning’s offense couldn’t score, no matter how many quality chances it got. What also didn’t help was bad line changes, and a dreadful one led to Burakovsky’s second of the game eight minutes later. The Capitals ended up winning 4-0 and won the Stanley Cup over Vegas in five.
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Burakovsky’s struggles looked more permanent during the 2018-19 season and a change of scenery to revitalize his career was beneficial. He landed with Colorado via trade, a team trying to rebuild a Stanley Cup-level roster for the first time in 20 years. Turns out he didn’t have to wait long to get another chance to win a championship.
His career flourished in Denver, attaining a higher point total in all three seasons with the Avalanche than he ever had in Washington. Burakovsky’s best as a Cap was a 38-point season in 2015-16. In three years in Colorado, he has 45, 44 and a career-best 61 points this season. A hefty contract should be around the bend this summer so he avoids free agency.
His biggest contribution in Colorado came Wednesday night, taking a one-timer and beating Vasilevskiy 93 seconds into overtime. Burakovsky is hitting his prime and the scary part is, he’s far from the best player the Avalanche have. His clutch shot brings Colorado three games from a Stanley Cup. And if he wins his second championship, it’ll prove his role as a dynamic middle-lineup player in the league for years to come.