DENVER – This city waited 21 years for the Stanley Cup Final to return and when the moment finally arrived on Wednesday night, it did so in classic fashion.
Andre Burakovsky, who was limited in the morning skate and has been in recent weeks because of injury, lifted the Colorado Avalanche to a 4-3 overtime win over the Tampa Bay Lightning in Game 1 when he hammered home a shot from the right side just 1 minute, 23 seconds into the extra session.
It capped a high-level battle that spent the final 26:21 of regulation even at three after each team surged over the opening two periods.
The Western Conference champion Avalanche, playing for the first time in nine days since capping a sweep of Edmonton in the Western Conference final on June 6, jumped out to an early 3-1 lead in front of a raucous home crowd.
The Tampa Bay Lighting, winners of not only the Eastern Conference but also the past two Stanley Cups, leveled the game in the second period with back-to-back goals in 48 seconds, including one at the end of a dazzling sequence from wingers Nikita Kucherov and Ondrej Palat.
When the Lightning killed off a frantic final 1:24 of regulation following a Pat Maroon delay of game penalty, Game 1 delivered a deserved overtime.
Burakovsky, though, ended it quickly and moved Colorado within three wins of its first championship since 2001.
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Other pivotal Game 1 moments:
The Avalanche blast out of the gate
Colorado winger Mikko Rantanen hit the post on a blistering shot in the opening 90 seconds in what might have seemed like a golden early opportunity gone awry. But instead, it stood as a message that Colorado was ready from the jump.
The Avs killed a penalty, then opened the scoring when 11-year veteran Gabriel Landeskog shepherded a Rantanen shot across the line after it trickled through Vasilevskiy’s legs. Then Valeri Nichushkin added a second goal less than two minutes later and, after Tampa cut the lead to 2-1, Artturi Lehkonen extended it to 3-1 late in the first period with a five-on-three power play goal.
Vasilevskiy leads with his chest
Tampa’s standout Russian netminder gave up three goals on the first 15 shots he saw, but stiffened from there.
In fact, he helped spark the Lightning’s second-period comeback, stoning a prime look from Nichushkin, the shot caroming off his chest. Veteran defenseman Ryan McDonagh cleared the puck to the middle and Palat and Kucherov went to work.
Kucherov collected the puck near the Avs’ blue line and put a sublime combination on defenseman Devon Toews, getting to the backhand and then leaving a perfect pass across the middle for Palat, who converted easily. Tampa Bay tied the game 48 seconds later, setting up the dramatic conclusion.