Oh sure, the main stories coming out of Game 4, a 3-2 Avs win that puts them one more victory away from the Cup, will be all sorts of things. Jon Cooper is going to make sure his moaning about a pretty much non-existent Too Many Men Penalty That Wasn’t that could have canceled out Nazem Kadri’s winner will be most of it. The Lightning dealing with simply one too many injuries and running out of ammunition will be another (Erik Cernak is too big of a piece to miss). The Avs turning over the Lightning in OT will be joining the fray, and if Kadri’s goal had gotten ruled out it is most likely they would have just found another amongst their myriad attacks.
But goalie Darcy Kuemper pulled the Avs’ ass out of a sling when they needed it, in the first period, and when and if the Avs are parading down Colfax, or wherever in the next week, it’s that first period they’ll point to.
It may have been the Lightning’s best period of the series. It started immediately, as they were up 1-0 within the first minute of the game, as Anthony Cirelli’s (who also got hurt) line was all over the top unit of the Avs. Which makes Cooper’s whining all the more rich because the Bolts’ opener came with Kuemper’s mask knocked off, which a lot of times would result in an automatic whistle. It’s acceptable that the refs didn’t blow their whistles with Cirelli staring at an open net, but it also would have been had they blown it dead.
The Lighting would go on to outshoot the Avs 17-4 in the first. They piled up 1.44 xG in just 20 minutes. They had seven high-danger chances. They would only get six more the rest of the game.
And Kuemper kept the Avs in it. They could have been buried by the time the 2nd period started, but he held the fort, the same way Lightning goalie Andrei Vasilevskiy was able to do in Games 1 and 3 to keep a simply outgunned Lightning team around or ahead to find the goals. That doesn’t mean Kuemper stole the game, because the Avs turned it around from the start of the 2nd on. That’s really all this Avs team requires, someone to iron out the select few rough patches they face rather than a goalie who has to sacrifice live chickens in the crease for full games. It’s hard to believe that’s all that’s required against the Lightning, the two-time champs and the most we-got-this team in years. But that’s the force the Avs are, and that’s how beat up the Bolts are.
As for Cooper’s whinging, well, the NHL certainly wanted to cover their tracks:
Which only makes this more of a controversy than it needs to be. The extra guy is a D-man for the Avs, who Kadri wasn’t coming on for. Whether that player is on the bench or at the boards, as he was, the Avs didn’t gain an advantage. Or… y’know:
What’s galling Cooper is he was down to five D-men after Cernak’s injury, and Sergachev and McDonagh were simply too gassed to cover the middle of the ice. It’s a nothing, and it won’t get Cooper anywhere. If he is looking to taint the Avs’ win here, he’ll find plenty of people gleefully arguing that the Lightning don’t have a legit Cup among their three (Gelinas goal, Bubble, 2021’s weirdo schedule/standings/system).
Either way, Kuemper has his moment, and the Avs have three chances to start their era in the wake of the Bolts.
There will be lots of annoying conversations about Shohei Ohtani not too far down the line. He will be entering the last year of his deal, and the Angels have done dick with him. Ohtani has made it clear he wants to win, so an automatic re-signing isn’t a given. So there will be talks about what he should net in a trade, if the Angels can bring themselves to do such a thing. Or what he could get on the open market. Which will then be followed by some well-actually’ers and eyeglass-pushers to try and claim he’s not worth that much if the Angels couldn’t win with him.
Leave that for another time. Ohtani has had the most remarkable two nights in MLB history. On Tuesday he racked up eight RBI, including this punching of the sky to tie the game in the bottom of the 9th:
Last night, he turned around and struck out 13 Royals in eight innings. It’s never been done. This is a true unicorn, and beyond the description of all but the most gifted with the language. That’s certainly not me. You can’t do more on a field in a two-game span. You can’t do more in just about any sport in a two-game span. It is bewildering in the best way.