DENVER — It was all designed so perfectly for the Colorado Avalanche. When we returned to Denver after taping a game at the Amalie Arena for a chance to wrap up the Stanley Cup Finals, the stands were shaking, the fans cheered, the trophy in their hands.
Except it didn’t quite turn out that way.
Instead of finishing the Stanley Cup Finals, the Avalanche lost to the Tampa Bay Lightning on Friday at the Ball Arena, 3-2. That means there will be a Game 6 on Sunday at the Amalie Arena (8pm ET; ABC, ESPN+, CBC, TVAS, SN) where the Avalanche will finish in the best-of-7 series with 3: 2 leads.
“Our aim was to finish it tonight,” said defender Devon Toews said. “Obviously we didn’t make it in front of our building. Our fans jumped on us, they encouraged us and gave us their support. A little disappointed. We will reset and prepare for the next one.”
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And despite their disappointment, even frustration at the way the game went, the Avalanche could draw on the idea that this was the final – it was never going to go exactly according to plan.
“I mean, they’re a good team, man,” Avalanche Captain Gabriel Landeskog said. “They are in the Stanley Cup Finals for the third year in a row. It shouldn’t be easy and it won’t be easy. We knew we were coming tonight.”
You need to recalibrate.
In the end, however, the Avalanche weren’t particularly upset about their game on Friday. They admitted they started out slow, slower than other games in the series. But they believed they had chances, had opportunities, just made a few missteps that cost them.
“I think we created 40-year-old shots and enough chances to score some goals,” Landeskog said. “But that little extra wasn’t there tonight and we’re going to need that to move forward.”
It started with the first goal, a shot wide Jan Ruetta that went down Darcy Kumper‘s glove and over his block at 15:23 of the first period.
“It was just a little knuckle,” Kümper said. “Happened. You know, you’re doing things right, that’s all you can do. Obviously you don’t want to concede goals. But it happens.”
Video: Palat and Vasilevskiy lead Lightning to a 3-2 win in Game 5
The Avalanche tied the game at 5:07 of the second with another goal Valery Nikhushkinonly to see Kal Makar claimed a trip penalty after 31 seconds in a 4-on-4. Nikita Kutscherow scored the power play at 8:10 of the period.
But once again the Avalanche did it, a puck deflected by Makar Eric Cernak‘s skate and past Andrei Vasilyevsky.
It wouldn’t last. There was Ondrej Palat scored the game-winner at 13:38 of the third, a goal Makar took responsibility for.
“I’m losing an order for goal,” he said. “Just a mistake in thinking. Unfortunately, it was at the back of our net. That just can’t happen.”
However, Bednar said, “I wouldn’t blame it all on Cale.”
So, no, it wouldn’t be easy. It’s the Stanley Cup final. It’s rare.
“They are an experienced group,” said Landeskog. “They had a lot of success. We knew this was going to be the hardest game in this series. And every game gets harder. So we just have to keep at it and keep playing our game.”
These include a smoother start, better bounce when dropping the puck, and fewer early penalties.
“I didn’t love our start,” Bednar said. “It was fine. We controlled and played right. It seemed like we weren’t attacking as much as we wanted. But again, the two penalties early in the game take a little longer for us to get going . But after that I thought our lads played hard, played well. We have to find a way to take a chance or two.”
It’s up to them to correct this before Game 6. It’s up to them not to turn one loss into two and not return to the ball arena this season.
“It was always this fight,” Toews said. “It’s a struggle every time. I don’t think shutting down a team has ever been an easy game. During our playoff run, through every playoff run, the hardest game is to shut down a team. We just have to do our best.”
They will nurse their wounds for a night. You will study the game tape. They will make their adjustments.
And then it’s on to game 6 and another chance to win the cup.
“Obviously it stings,” said Landeskog. “But listen, it’s a seven-game series and we’re going to wake up tomorrow, we’re going to be ready to watch a movie and see where we can get better and see where we can streamline things to make it harder to make them. We’ll jump right back.”