The depth for the Colorado Avalanche continues to pay dividends.
Forward Nico Sturm scored on a rebound at 2:53 of the third period to tie the game at 2-2. Goalie Andrei Vasilevskiy bobbled the initial shot by Darren Helmleaving a juicy rebound for Sturm to pounce on for his first of the postseason.
Sturm was obtained from the Minnesota Wild at the 2022 NHL Trade Deadline.
Anthony Cirelli and Eric Cernak, each injured in the second period, returned for the third. Cirelli, however, was not taking face-offs after appearing to injure his hand late in the second.
10:10 pm ET
Well, as we get ready to start the third period here with the Lightning leading 2-1 and in position to even the series 2-2, let’s take a minute to once again acknowledge the brilliance of Colorado defenseman Cale Makarwho won the Norris trophy on Tuesday.
Makar had an assist on the power-play goal by Nathan MacKinnon in the second period to give him his 27th point (seven goals, 20 assists) of the postseason.
Makar now owns part of the Avalanche / Quebec Nordiques record for assists (20) in a single postseason, sharing it with Mikko Rantanenwho has 25 points (five goals, 20 assists) and also had an assist on the MacKinnon goal.
Speaking of Rantanen, he has some pretty gaudy numbers this postseason.
Rantanen has scored a point in eight straight games (four goals, 10 assists), dating to Game 1 of the Western Conference Final. He has eight assists in the Cup Final, the first player since Daniel Briere of the Philadelphia Flyers, who had 12 points in the 2010 Final.
Only one other player has had eight assists in the first four games of the Cup Final in NHL history, Wayne Gretzky of the Edmonton Oilers, who had two goals and eight assists in the 1988 Final against the Boston Bruins. Gretzky’s total includes two assists from the suspended game May 24.
9:55 pm ET
Now we have some drama.
The Lightning lead 2-1 on the strength of the wonderful goal by Victor Hedmanbut the Avalanche have found their footing, thanks to a near-lethal power play and a better transition game.
The Lightning have a 26-21 advantage in shots, but all remains to be played for in the third period, something we have not been able to say since the third period of Game 1, when the Avalanche won 4-3 in overtime.
There’s a bit of concern for the Lightning after Anthony Cirelli went to the dressing room late in the period after he appeared to get cut on the arm by a skate blade. Cirelli scored the opening goal in Game 4 and has a goal in consecutive games.
Get your favorite beverage and get settled in for what should be a mosh pit of a third period.
9:42 pm ET
Victor Hedman has looked almost human at times in these playoffs and looked like he was struggling in the first two games of the Final.
But he just made the play of the game to this point to give the Lightning a 2-1 lead and take back the momentum with a defense-splitting rush that turned into a pretty backhand goal at 10:42.
By the way, just to close the loop on how dominant the Avalanche power play has been in the playoffs: they are now 20-for-57 (35.1 percent) on the power play, the third-highest percentage in a single postseason in the NHL history (minimum 40 opportunities). They are the fifth team since 2010 to score at least 20 power-play goals in a single postseason.
On an unrelated note, the game ops guys just played “Du hast” by Rammstein to get the crowd fired up. Suggestion to make it more effective: Fire up the Tesla coils while playing the song.
9:25 pm ET
Nathan MacKinnon scores on the power play to tie the game 1-1 at 5:17 of the second period.
The Avalanche have been better this period, generating offense even before the penalty.
But there is no question, their man-advantage play has been a lifesaver in this series. That is their sixth power-play goal in less than 11 periods of play.
Tampa Bay coach Jon Cooper said he was not concerned about his penalty kill because he feels they were getting kills at the right time, but that was a huge spot, and they had no answers.
Now we have ourselves a game, especially with Tampa Bay going back on the power play.
9:15 pm ET
We are back for the second period here at Amalie Arena.
Dick Vitale had a videotaped message of encouragement for the Lightning during the first intermission, which was cool.
It’ll be interesting to see if Tampa Bay can keep up its forechecking pressure and continue to cycle effectively as it has been the difference-maker in the past three periods.
Right now, the Lightning are playing like the soundtrack of “Cowboys from Hell” by Pantera is playing in their heads. Their game is all power and groove, derived from the drumming of Vinnie Paul pounding away at a full gallop, setting the tempo on absolute ragers like “Pyscho Holiday” and “Primal Concrete Sledge.”
The high-flying Avalanche didn’t score in the third period of Game 3 or the first period of Game 4, the first time they have gone back-to-back periods without a goal since the second round.
9:05 pm ET
What a first period for the Lightning, who lead 1-0 on a goal by Anthony Cirelli in the first minute of the game.
The Lightning are asking questions of the Avalanche for which Colorado does not have answers.
The sustained offensive-zone pressure led to the first goal and also, later in the period, forced Darren Helm to take the game’s first penalty. The Lightning did not score on the power play but continued to ratchet up the pressure.
The differential shot was 17-4 in favor of the Lightning in the first period. Tampa Bay had 16 shots total in Game 2, a 7-0 loss.
Colorado is going to have regroup here during the intermission and find a way to alleviate the waves of pressure being brought to bear by the Tampa Bay forecheck, which started to pay noticeable dividends in the third period of Game 3 when the Lightning delivered nine hits (of 14 total in the period) against the Avalanche’s vaunted puck-moving defensemen.
8:50 pm ET
With five minutes left in the first period, it has been all Lightning. They have barely allowed the Avalanche to set up in the offensive zone. When the puck enters the Lightning end, it is flipped back out, and the Avalanche are forced to reload and reset, taking away their transition game and some of the speed inherent in their forecheck.
When I first got into heavy music, German metallers Accept had a song called “Fast as a Shark,” and it was like nothing I had heard, played at a brutally fast pace and arguably one of the first thrash metal songs ever made.
I bring that up because the Avalanche played fast as sharks in the first two games, but now they have been slowed down and their game has changed as a result. It’s not quite as explosive or dangerous, but more plodding.
It is not the pace they want to play at, particularly with two shots 17 minutes in against the best goalie in the world, Andrei Vasilevskiy. They know they need more volume than that.
8:35 pm ET
We’re midway through the first period, and the goal by Anthony Cirelli still stands as the lead for the Lightning.
Cirelli hadn’t scored in 13 straight postseason games before Game 3, but now has a goal in consecutive games. The Game 4 goal was the fastest in Cup Final history since Fernando Pisani of the Edmonton Oilers scored 16 seconds into Game 5 of the 2006 Final against the Carolina Hurricanes.
As mentioned, the goal came with Kuemper playing without his mask. The loss of a goalie mask only leads to an immediate stoppage if there is no scoring chance in motion. That was not the case here.
Tampa Bay holds a 10-1 advantage in shots. Nazem Kadrimaking his Stanley Cup debut for the Avalanche, has Colorado’s shot.
8:25 pm ET
It’s a dream start for the Lightning as they score 36 seconds into the game. Anthony Cirelli scored into an open net on a rebound after the Colorado goalie Darcy Kuemper made four saves and lost his helmet in the process.
Cirelli also scored Tampa Bay’s first goal in Game 3. His goal in Game 4 marks the first time that the Lightning have scored first in the four games of this series.
8:20 pm ET
The game is 36 seconds old, and the Lightning are already on the board, taking a 1-0 lead on a goal by Anthony Cirelli.
Nazem Kadri is in and playing second-line center with Gabriel Landeskog and Valeri Nichushkin on his wings.
JT Compher slides down to third-line center, and Nicolas Aube-Kubelwho played 6:36 in Game 3, is scratched.
There was a bit of a wrinkle in the Corey Perry warmup routine for Game 4. The Tampa Bay forward was not the last one off the ice, which is tradition, heading for the dressing room tunnel just before Ondrej Palat. Also, his scoring attempt at the vacated Colorado goal was thwarted when his shot struck another puck and each slid wide of the posts. It wasn’t much of a hockey shot, but Perry may have a future in curling.
As was the case in Game 3, the pregame ceremony was completely over the top. The highlights, as always, were the national anthem rendition sung by Sonya Bryson-Kirksey as well as the live rendition of “Thunder & Lightning” by Vo Williams and the home-ice video essay narrated by WWE star Titus O’Neal.
7:50 pm ET
Warmups for Game 4 are going on.
Nazem Kadri has taken the ice for the Avalanche and looks to make his debut in the Stanley Cup Final after missing the past three games with a hand injury.
Nikita Kucherov is on the ice the for the Lightning, but Brayden Point is absent as expected. Wednesday, Tampa Bay coach Jon Cooper said Point would be out for Game 4, but he is not ready to rule the forward out for the series.
Darcy Kuemper led the Avalanche out for warmups and remains the starter. There was some speculation that backup Pavel Francouz could get the start after coming in during Game 3. Kuemper allowed five goals on 22 shots.
Shoutout to DJ Shannon for an eclectic set of music to lead the crowd into warmups. There was no Clutch (boo), but a good mix of arena rock and hip hop and a bit of EDM.
7 pm ET
We’re a little more than an hour away from the start of Game 4, which is pivotal for each team.
If Colorado wins, it will have an opportunity to win the Stanley Cup on home ice in Game 5 at Ball Arena on Friday. If Tampa Bay can find a way to win, it has all the momentum after losing the first two games.
The Avalanche could get some help with forward Nazem Kadri possibly returning after missing the past four games after sustaining a hand injury on his first shift of Game 3 against the Edmonton Oilers in the Western Conference Final on June 4.
Kadri has 14 points (six goals, eight assists) in 13 games in the 2022 Stanley Cup Playoffs. He scored 87 points (28 goals, 59 assists) in 71 regular-season games.
For the Lightning, forward Nikita Kucherov is expected to play after leaving with an injury in the third period of Game 3. Forward Brayden Point, however, is likely to miss his second straight game.
It’s a perfect night for hockey in Tampa; although it is a bit warmer and more humid that this native New Englander would like. The fans, spilling out onto the sidewalk at the legendary Hattricks Bar nearby and packing the watch party outside the arena, are buoyed by their team’s showing in Game 3, which suggests another series comeback, like the one they made in the Eastern Conference Final, could be in the offing.
The Lightning fell behind the New York Rangers 2-0 in the series and 2-0 in Game 3 but prevailed in six games.
We’ll be back for warmups in a bit.