Justin Cuthbert breaks down the Colorado Avalanche's thrilling triumph over the Tampa Bay Lightning in Game 1 of the Stanley Cup Final.
JUSTIN CUTHBERT: "Yahoo Sports Hockey Podcast," we are hanging out after game one of the Stanley Cup Final. Of course, the Colorado Avalanche were 4-3 winners in overtime over the Tampa Bay Lightning to take game one at Ball Arena. It was Andre Burakovsky who was the hero. He's seen some scratches in these playoffs, but he plays hero in game one with the overtime winner-- what-- a minute and a half into the bonus frame.
Of course, it came on a brilliant feed from Valeri Nichushkin who I think was the star of the game. He was tormenting Lightning defenders all night. He finished with more shots than anyone in the game. Not quite more shot attempts, but I think more meaningful looks. If you look it, definitely led the team-- led the game rather in individual expected goals.
He was a force. And maybe we'll talk about him in a little bit. But I think most important than anything else is that this game, the game one victory for Colorado, set the groundwork for a series that could be befitting finally of a legitimate Championship Series in the NHL. Of course, the ones we've seen before are legitimate and have been great Stanley Cup Finals. But this for the first time is like true best on best. And we know as hockey fans we don't get true best on best very often, even though we should be getting that every four years guaranteed at the international level but I digress.
This is for the first time in a long time the two best teams undoubtedly. And they look to be both at the top of their games. I think Colorado winning this game in the manner that they did sets up for what should be a long and memorable and awesome series. Just look at the last two seasons. Of course, they were played in half empty buildings or fully empty buildings in bubbles but also the match-ups weren't great.
Tampa beat the Dallas Stars who-- all due respect to Dallas Stars fans-- they're not the most exciting team. And, of course, the Montreal Canadiens who probably didn't even deserve in a regular year to be in the playoffs but got to the Stanley Cup Final. And it wasn't that competitive.
But this can be very, very competitive. And I think Colorado beating Tampa in game one sets up for it to be the most competitive. And it was Burakovsky who scored the winner. But as I mentioned, Nichushkin I thought was the hero for the Colorado Avalanche.
I think the most dangerous any team looked at any point is when McKinnon, McArthur, and Nichushkin were on the ice together, three players as part of a five-man unit. I thought that was when Colorado was at its best. And it certainly showed in this game with Nichushkin being the difference in a lot of ways.
And I think McKinnon and McArthur probably have their time, and they were dominant at times in this game as well. But the player that stood the most in a sea of superstars was Valeri Nichushkin who is going to be hitting the open market very, very soon if he doesn't decide to sign with Colorado before that. And I cannot get Conner McDavid out of my mind when I think about Valeri Nichushkin.
And I think he would be the perfect winger-- speeds, size, smarts, very good defensively. Why waste all that money? Why spend all that money on Evander Kane when you could give that same money to a guy like Valeri Nichushkin? I'm not convinced he doesn't deserve more on the open market because I think he's one of the most underrated players in the game. And I guess he became a little bit more rated after his performance in game one.
But aside from, like, this maybe emerging superstar that stood out among all the other superstars was the rest of this game sort of followed, I think, what we might expect from the series script, which is the Avalanche pressing a lot, and outshooting, not quite doubling but close to doubling the Lightning in shots, and so many more shot attempts, and forcing the Lightning to block a ton of shots. I mean, that's the stuff that I think we all expect.
And the Lightning also hitting on the counterattack is something we expect. All their goals were sort of borne out of that. At least it seems based on the big moments with Nick Paul scoring his goal and, of course, the other moments that led to those-- them tying the game in the second period.
It seems like it could be a lot of that counterattack. And certainly the Kucherov and Palat goal, which we'll talk about in the second, that was-- that's how the Lightning are at their most dangerous, hitting on the counterattack. And if there were sort of two surprises, it was how easily the Avalanche scored with their early chances and the chances that we expected them to get with them being the more aggressive team and shot out of a cannon right away with altitude being in their favor.
Forget rest versus rust. Altitude is probably the biggest thing. And we probably should have been thinking about that and talking about that a little bit more. But they scored so easily on their attempts early on.
But what was more surprising maybe was how easily that lead was given up, and especially that Kucherov moment, a harmless two on two where the best defensive pairing in hockey is given an opportunity to handle two immensely talented players but not a situation that should be harmless in any way. But Kucherov makes Davante look silly for maybe the first time I've seen all season. And, of course, Palat beats McArthur to the spot in the decisive moment where the goal goes in behind Darcy Kuemper.
So two things I think will probably look to clean up would be Vasilevskiy early. And then the Avalanche if they do get that lead, they do have to do a better job protecting it even though they were able to pull out the win nonetheless. But Vasilevskiy's problems, of course, giving up those early goals. It's been sort of a repeated pattern for him.
His game ones have been problematic for the Tampa Bay Lightning. 37% of his total goals given up in these playoffs have come in the game ones versus Toronto and Florida and New York and now Colorado. 16 of the 43 goals he's given up in the entire playoffs. What is it? Seven games in the first round, four, 11, seven games in the third round, 18, 19.
So 16 of his 43 and 19. He's just giving up more than two on average per game. But 16 of those goals have come in those game ones. So I'm not sure why that would happen. We know this is a goaltender who is really capable of getting up for the moments that matter. And I guess game ones matter the least, especially on the road.
I guess if you're a team like the Tampa Bay Lightning who started each of their three series and now four series on the road-- they've been playing from behind, and that hasn't been an issue. But Vasilevskiy when he has to be great is great. And I guess in these game ones he hasn't had to be great. And we'll see if that bulletproof resolve of his does show once again.
Key match ups. The first game is always a feeling out process. And we see what the coaches want to do. And then we see how they adjust. But there wasn't much hard matching in the game. I think if Jared Bednar had it his way for Colorado, Cale Makar and Devon Toews would be out against that Kucherov line with Stamkos and Palat as much as possible.
And despite that one moment where they looked foolish, they did an amazing job against that top line of Tampa Bay's. I think they only gave up two shots at five on five, one of them being that pull-out goal. So I think Makar and Toews can handle them. They just probably can't get complacent when they think they probably have those two bottled up because we know that Kucherov and Palat can have that skill shine through despite what the situation may be.
We did see the top line of Nathan MacKinnon, Nichushkin, and Gabriel Landeskog play a lot against Erik Cernak and Ryan McDonagh. That is probably by design on both sides. I mean, I don't think that the Colorado Avalanche would shy away from that, but clearly, that's what John Cooper wanted from the Lightning side, was to get a shutdown [INAUDIBLE] against the Colorado Avalanche's top line. But they did a pretty good job.
I mean, Nathan MacKinnon was dominant throughout. I think the shot attempts were probably about 2 to 1 with McKinnon's line against that Cernak unit. And there was one moment in the game where Nathan MacKinnon completely broke the ankles of Erik Cernak and had a great chance on Andre Vasilevskiy.
But other than that, there wasn't much hard matching. We saw a lot of players see a lot of the opposition. And for that reason, I guess both coaches have a lot of data that they can take home with these two days off and see if they can create some advantages for their lineups.
There was a player that struggled, maybe Victor Hedman is it. I think he had a difficult time in this game. It didn't really matter who he was playing against. And I think it was probably pretty symptomatic that he was kind of caught out there on the winter from Burakovsky where he just kind of got stuck in the mud. He was not great with his gaps. And it was Burakovsky who scored sort of right in front of him with him kind of stuck at a position and not being able to get in front of those blocked shots.
Speaking of blocked shots, one thing that did stand out for me when I was looking at the data after the game was-- I mean, the shot attempts in favor of the Avalanche were pretty severe, but-- and they-- and for that reason, I mean, they got a lot on Vasilevskiy, but they also forced the Lightning to block a lot of shots. But the Avalanche blocked more shots than the Lightning did despite that-- or that pretty serious advantage in shot attempts.
So Darcy Kuemper only had to make 20 saves, of course, gave up three on 23 shots is not great. But the Colorado Avalanche blocked more shots than Kuemper had to make saves, which is probably important because there's a difference in the goaltending here. So if they can be as defensively responsible, the Avalanche as the Lightning are and they can have that advantage of shots and shot attempts and scoring at chances, that may be how they make up for the fact that they might not have the better goalie in this series.
If they can be just as good from a shot blocking standpoint, that can go a long way in helping Darcy Kuemper make up for this perceived disadvantage, I guess, we'll say. Other than that, Brayden Point looked really, really good in his return. He wasn't available to the media because he was getting treatment. Hopefully, that doesn't mean that he's going to be limited anyway moving forward in the series. And that's just something he's going to have to deal with throughout.
We did not see Nazem Kadri or Andrew Cogliano were dealing with, I think, similar injuries. Kadri, I believe it's a broken thumb. I don't know if that's been confirmed yet, but he's dealing with a thumb issue, had to have surgery. Hopefully, we see him in the series. But it didn't really matter from the middle sixth depth standpoint for Colorado.
If there was one big, big advantage, it was the fact that their middle six kind of dominated whatever their matchup was versus the Lightning in this game. That's one thing about the Avalanche is that they are so deep and so uniform in their speed, in their attack. And there really wasn't much of a letup even though the memorable moments came from Nichushkin, and MacKinnon, and McArthur. I mean, that pressure was always on the Avalanche forcing them into those blocked shots, those tough saves from Vasilevskiy and eventually that breakthrough on the second line from Burakovsky.
Another part of the series, which is great, is that the crowds look like they're going to be sensational. I said at the top there that we missed so much from the last two series from the two teams that were playing. But, of course, we miss the atmosphere as well. Like Montreal had very little fans.
Two years ago, we had no one in the bubble. But Colorado's crowd was awesome, start to finish they were cheering. Their team didn't give up to two goal leads in the game. They were awesome throughout. Of course, the Blink-182 sing-alongs, all that is great stuff, and Tampa's crowd is always good as well.
So we have it all. We have the recipe here. We have two spectacular teams, the best in each conference, two spectacular crowd, two great atmospheres. This is all setting up to be an unbelievable series. And this is just an early look at what we've got because I think this was the ideal game one with the Colorado Avalanche taking it, testing the Lightning's resolve in game two and maybe more critically if they lose game two and have to get back into the series with two games on home ice next week.
But either way, I have a feeling this is going to go deep. This is going to be highly entertaining. We might not see seven goals in overtime in each game, but I think we're set up to be highly entertained in the 2022 Stanley Cup Final. That's it for my breakdown in game one.
We'll have more with game two with Julian McKenzie on Sunday. And I'm going to see if we break down each game. But we'll have all the written stuff. We'll have it all covered here at Yahoo Sports. The 2022 Stanley Cup Final is worth covering in depth. And we are surely going to do that. That's it for the game one recap. We'll see you for game two.