There was no goal horn. No point to the net from the closest official. No audible cheer from the Avalanche faithful in attendance at Tampa’s Amalie Arena. All for the decisive shot and score from Nazem Kadri that essentially won the Colorado Avalanche the Stanley Cup.
Yes, there are three games to go. The Avalanche haven’t lost more than two games in a playoff series yet this postseason. They’re the fresher team. The Tampa Bay Lightning must now beat Colorado three times in a row, including twice in Denver. Tampa has no shot. And all but the acceptance speech from Jared Bednar’s squad is coming this weekend.
What sent the series back to the Rockies with the Stanley Cup needing to be at each remaining game of the season was an overtime thriller on Wednesday night. Tampa entered the extra frame down to five defensemen. That’s a lot of added weight to put on already tired legs. The Avalanche dominated the overtime. It always appeared a matter of when not if Colorado took a 3-1 series lead, refusing to make the championship tilt a de-facto best-of-3.
The game-winning moment came with just less than eight minutes left in the first overtime period. Kadri, who hadn’t played since he broke his thumb on a hit by Edmonton Oiler Evander Kane on June 4, found a seam through Tampa’s defense for a sneaky, solid shot on net. Tampa goaltender Andrei Vasilevskiy was fantastic in overtime, prolonging the pain of defeat for as long as humanly possible.
Kadri’s shot beat Vasilevskiy seven-hole, between the arm and leg, blocker-side. The puck’s trajectory sent it into the top of the net, finding mysterious lodging in between the meshing and back bar. Vasilevskiy is sprawled down on the ice, and it wouldn’t have been shocking to see the Russian make another phenomenal save. No one close could find the puck, although some faces of cheer and anguish in the crowd tell the entire story. On the ice, the first player to make clear he knows the puck is in the net is Colorado defenseman Bowen Byram, who frantically pointed to the rubber, alerting the official standing inches from it.
The realization slowly matriculated through the arena and set in on television. One of the most important goals of the season started with a whimper. I can’t remember a goal of that magnitude, a game-clincher in the Stanley Cup, where almost everyone lost the puck. Shots that hit the back bar and come rolling out of the net are common. Pucks that get stuck out of plain sight aren’t.
The Wile E. Coyote overhead cam showed the proof easily for anyone doubting the result. The overtime goal is a microcosm of the series. Tampa is just a step slower than Colorado. This has been ingrained throughout most of the four games between the teams. The Lightning proved to be the class of the Eastern Conference, and nd their road to a three-peat is now a nearly impossible one thanks to a goal that almost no one caught live.