The Colorado Avalanche are champions for the first time in more than two decades.
On Sunday, the Avalanche beat the two-time defending champion Tampa Bay Lightning in Game 6 to win the 2022 Stanley Cup Finals. They are now the winners of three Stanley Cup titles in their history, having won in 1996 and 2001.
With the win, Colorado ended Tampa Bay's bid to win three consecutive Stanley Cups, a feat only achieved by the Toronto Maple Leafs, Montreal Canadiens, and the New York Islanders, and well before the current salary cap era.
The Avalanche won the series' first two games, including a 7-0 victory over Tampa Bay in Game 2. The Lightning earned their first win of the series in Game 3, beating Colorado 6-2, but found themselves down three games to one after a 3-2 loss in Game 4 on Wednesday night. Tampa extended the series on Friday, but Colorado finished it off Sunday with a 2-1 victory.
Avalanche center Nazem Kadri, who was sidelined after undergoing surgery on his thumb, returned to the team for Game 4 and scored the gaming-winning goal.
"[It's been a] roller coaster of emotions," Kadri said after the game, according to the Washington Post. "Thinking I was done, then having a sliver of hope, sitting here right now is kind of surreal. I just was excited to join the team again and be in the dressing room. This is what I've been waiting for my whole life, so it was certainly exciting to be back in the lineup."
Mark Blinch/NHLI via Getty; Ethan Miller/Getty
Added Avalanche captain Gabriel Landeskog: "You know [Kadri] wasn't going to go down easy. It's an inspiration to everybody else to see a teammate like that try to come back and fight every day to try to get better and finally he's back in the lineup. No doubt it was exciting for us and gave us a different look. You can't make that stuff up. Big in overtime, and it's great to see."
Game 4, however, did not end without controversy.
According to USA Today, fans on social media quickly pointed out that Colorado had too many players on the ice when Kadri scored the game-winning goal — something that Lightning coach Jon Cooper alluded to in a post-game conference.
"This one is going to sting much more than others," Cooper said, according to the New York Times. "You're going to see what I mean when you see the winning goal."
"And my heart breaks for the players," he added. "Because we probably still should be playing."
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Tampa Bay now joins the Pittsburgh Penguins (2016 and 2017) as the two most recent teams to miss out on three consecutive championships after winning back-to-back titles.
The last team among the four major sports in North America to earn three consecutive titles is the Los Angeles Lakers. The club won three NBA championships from 2000 to 2002 with the help of Kobe Bryant and Shaquille O'Neal.