The Lightning overpowered Colorado with tougher physicality, clogged the neutral zone and once again relied on goaltender Andrei Vasilevskiy’s firebolt reflexes to counter Colorado’s superior speed in a 3-2 victory in Game 5 on Friday night at Ball Arena.
Coach Jon Cooper found a way for the Lightning to finally bottle up Colorado captain Gabriel Landeskog and Mikko Rantanen to send the series back to Tampa with a chance to tie it up in Game 6 on Sunday night.
Ondrej Palat sent the puck through Darcy Kuemper’s legs with 6:22 remaining in the third period to break a 2-2 tie and Colorado was whistled for too many men on the ice with 2:38 remaining as they were trying for the equalizer.
Cooper had complained 48 hours earlier that Colorado’s game-winner in overtime came with too many men on the ice, but the Avs didn’t get away with it this time.
The whistles and the breaks just didn’t go Colorado’s way in Game 5. Neither did the calls as the Lightning knocked the Avalanche around, with or without the puck on their sticks.
Tampa Bay went with four forwards when Avalanche star Cale Makar was whistled for tripping in the second period during a 4-on-4 skate. Nikita Kucherov capitalized moments later by scoring just the second goal in 17 power play chances by the Lighting in the final.
Makar atoned with a goal early in the third period that tied it at 2.
The Lightning are now in position to knot up the series this weekend back in Florida, where Avalanche centre Nazim Kadri complained about the bad ice before scoring the game-winner in Game 4.
Makar said after that thriller that the Avalanche still weren’t exhaling, insisting a fourth win over the back-to-back champs would prove the hardest to come by.
Playing in their 67th playoff game since the first round of the 2020 playoffs, the Lightning kept alive their hopes of becoming the first team to win three consecutive Stanley Cups in the salary cap era.
To do that, they’ll also have to become the first team since the 1942 Toronto Maple Leafs to bounce back from a 3-1 deficit to win the Cup.
One down, two to go.