TAMPA, Fla. — When it was all over and the Avalanche had completed their climb from worst team in the NHL to Stanley Cup winners, captain Gabe Landeskog gathered the remaining players from the 2016-17 squad for a photo. of group.
Landeskog. Nathan MacKinnon. Eric Johnson. Mikko Rantanen. JT Compher.
“Guys of the season at 48 points! Landeskog said on the ice at Amalie Arena.
These guys are now champions.
These guys are now part of Denver sports history.
These guys overcame the heartbreak of previous playoff disappointment to lift the sport’s greatest and most difficult trophy to win.
The Avalanche ended a dominating playoff series late Sunday night with a 2-1 Game 6 win over the Tampa Bay Lightning, getting second-period goals from MacKinnon and Artturi Lehkonen, then playing one of the best thirds possible periods for the championship.
Believe it, Denver.
Savor it, Denver.
Enjoy it, Denver.
The Avalanche’s 10th playoff win, which tied an NHL record, was arguably its most impressive. Forty-eight hours after squandering a chance to clinch the Cup on home soil and spark pandemonium at the Ball Arena, the Avs calmly entered Tampa, believed in their game, were confident of bouncing back, and ended the championship by two years of the Lightning.
“These guys inside the locker room and inside the organization have worked so hard and I’m so happy and so proud to see these champions skating around the ice,” said Landeskog, who only became as the fourth captain born in Europe. to receive the Cup, joining Zdeno Chara (Boston), Alex Ovechkin (Washington) and fellow Swede Nicklas Lidstrom (Detroit).
A positive COVID-19 test meant commissioner Gary Bettman did not conduct post-game ceremonies, so it was deputy commissioner Bill Daly who presented defender Cale Makar with the Conn Smythe Trophy for the player the Most Valuable of the Playoffs (he received all 18 votes) and then presented the Cup to Landeskog.
Landeskog’s first transfer was fitting – to defender Erik Johnson, who is the longest-serving Avs player. From there it went to winger Andrew Cogliano, MacKinnon, defenseman Jack Johnson, center Nazem Kadri, winger Andre Burakovsky, Rantanen, center Darren Helm, defenseman Devon Toews and all the other players who dressed and undressed for Game 6.
Shortly after, families and friends of the players and coaches were allowed to join them on the ice for nearly an hour of hugs and photos.
The Avalanche playoffs have been a tour de force of talent (MacKinnon and Makar leading) and grit (untold contributions from players who weren’t even in the roster when the playoffs started last month) .
The Avs have never hung out in a series. They have never lost consecutive matches. They went 16-4 (tied for the second-best record in the best-of-seven era). They went 9-1 on the road. They were 5-1 in overtime (including 2-0 in the final). They were 6-1 in one goal games. And they 4-2 in closing games.
Everyone had to survive the Lightning.
Tampa Bay scored first for the third straight game when a rare turnover from Makar in his zone led to Steven Stamkos’ goal through goaltender Darcy Kuemper’s five holes.
Just 1:54 into the second, the Avalanche tied the tie in MacKinnon’s 13th of the playoffs. Skating 6-5 due to a delayed penalty from Lightning, Landeskog passed the center point to defenseman Bo Byram, who passed it to MacKinnon for the one-timer from the circle that beat goaltender Andrei Vasilevskiy on the blocker’s side. .
At 12:38 of the second, MacKinnon skated in the middle of the Lightning zone and his attempted pass to defenseman Josh Manson on his right passed defenseman Erik Cernak and surged left to Artturi Lehkonen, whose quick shot beat Vasilevskiy at the high glove side.
Fittingly, MacKinnon was involved in both goals of a decisive Cup victory. He had to endure the pressure of second-round losses the previous two years to Dallas and Vegas.
MacKinnon has now joined a distinguished group of top overall picks who have become Cup champions, which includes Stamkos, Ovechkin and Sidney Crosby, among others.
“It’s hard to describe, honestly,” MacKinnon said. “The best part is sharing it with my teammates and my brothers.”
It’s not hard to describe how the Avalanche protected the one-goal lead for the final period over.
Tampa Bay had no shots on goal for the first 10 minutes of the third period and only four for the final 20 minutes.
“It was one of our best times of the year,” said Kuemper, who made 22 saves. “We talked about it at intermission to keep your foot on the gas and keep bringing it to them and that’s what we did.”
The crushing third goal eluded the Avs, however, creating drama in the final two minutes when the Lightning retired Vasilevskiy.
Landeskog blocked a shot and literally crawled off the ice before a stoppage with 1:15 to go. Kuemper made a stop in traffic with 1:10 to play. And MacKinnon cleared the puck on the ice in 25 seconds.
At 10:48 p.m. local time, the Avs were champions.
The crowd scene behind the Avs goal included all of the players throwing each of their sticks, gloves and helmets in the air. During the handshake line, led by Landeskog, Lightning coach Jon Cooper was graceful in the loss, sharing moments with Makar, Kuemper, Kadri and Erik and Jack Johnson before a lengthy chat with Bednar.
“It was a big relief,” Bednar said. “I was in disbelief for a while. The guys were already on the ice and it takes a moment or two to sink in. It’s just hard to believe because we’ve been working for this for six years and we have took a trip with these guys and that we built the team.
“And then there is a feeling of satisfaction.”
As it should be, Jared.
The Avalanche’s rise to the top of the NHL has been literally terrible to terrible. During the 2016-17 season, Bednar was a rookie coach and his roster was young and not yet ready to win. The Avs have won just 22 of 82 games and suffered six losing streaks of at least five games. General manager Joe Sakic, however, didn’t panic, opting to stick with Bednar on the expectation that he would grow with his roster. Sakic was right.
June 26, 2022 joined June 10, 1996 and June 9, 2001 as Avalanche Championship winning dates. The Avs became just the fourth Cup champion since 1968 to win all four of their series on road ice. In the first two titles, it was Sakic who received the cup from Bettman.
As the Cup paraded around the ice with its players, Sakic beamed with pride. The trip was full.
“Sometimes you have to go through tough times to finally get this,” Sakic said. “It was well worth it. An incredible run by this group.