Not so fast, Colorado. That mile-high feeling will need to wait, at least one more game. On Friday night, the Tampa Bay Lightning forced a Game 6, with yet another close 3-2 victory, off a late-game winner by Ondrej Palat. Colorado never led, while Tampa found three separate leads in the game. Andrei Vasilevskiy picked up the win, keeping the Bolts’ postseason alive.
After power play opportunities on both sides of the puck, Tampa eventually found the game’s opening goal. It was a rush up ice led by Jan Rutta, who simply walked across the blueline, wound up and fired a slap shot that beat Darcy Kuemper through his glove and pants, getting the first of his playoff season, and third of his postseason career. The goal came on Tampa’s eighth shot of the game, which occurred at 4:37 of period.
Colorado knotted it up midway through the middle stanza on what appeared to be another goal in which Andrei Vasilevskiy did not put forth a typical Vasilevskiy effort in these playoffs. Nathan MacKinnon won an offensive zone faceoff to defenceman Cale Makar, who walked the line and put the puck on net. It hit Vasilevskiy in the arm and dropped to his feet. The lanky backstop lost sight of the puck, as the red-hot Valeri Nichushkin easily tapped it into the yawning cage, much to the delight of the packed house at Ball Arena.
Just 31 seconds into a four-on-four situation, Cale Makar took a tripping penalty on Ondrej Palat, which turned it into the rare four-on-three. It took all of 1:13 for the Lightning to pull back ahead. This time it was sniper Nikita Kucherov. Steven Stamkos and Kucherov went back-to-back at the point before Kucherov put it past Kuemper, through a Corey Perry screen.
Much like that of Game 4, the two teams headed into the dressing room between the second and third periods with the Bolts up 2-1. This time, however, they needed keep the lead and not cough it up like they did two nights prior.
Unfortunately, that only lasted 2:31 of the third period.
A mix-up play in Colorado’s offensive zone led to yet another game-tying goal. Ultimately deflecting off the skate of Erik Cernak, the puck trickled through Vasilevskiy’s legs, once again bringing the game to a draw with more than three-quarters of a period left to play.
The teams went back-and-forth for the remainder of the frame with Colorado taking a heavy lead in shots. But it was Tampa that actually found the twine – in what proved to be the final goal of the game. Victor Hedman drew two Avalanche players (Cale Makar and Valeri Nichushkin) to the corner, before dishing a pass to a pinching Ondrej Palat. The eventual hero put a one-timer through Keumper’s legs, before celebrating hard in the corner. The goal came with just 6:22 remaining, deflating the Avalanche and fans in attendance.
Colorado’s pressured attack was put to the wayside with a careless too-many-men penalty, putting the nail in the coffin for the Avalanche. Tampa Bay killed time with the man advantage, putting the finishing touches on the Game 5 win, ensuring one final game at Amalie Arena in Florida on Sunday.
Vasilevskiy made 36 saves on the 38 shots he faced, while Kuemper made 26 saves on 29 shots. But the effort wasn’t quite good enough to win the Cup for the Avs. They will get another shot at it on Sunday, while Tampa will look to push it to a Game 7 on Tuesday.