The Colorado Avalanche ranked as the favorite to win the Stanley Cup all season long. They lived up to that billing on Sunday night, beating the Tampa Bay Lightning 2-1 to close out the Stanley Cup Final in six games.
Artturi Lehkonen scored the game-winning goal at 12:28 of the second period, and the Avalanche defense closed the door after that, stymying the Lightning offense throughout the third period.
Makar unanimously wins Conn Smythe
Tampa Bay managed only three shots on goal over the last 20 minutes of Game 6. Colorado goalie Darcy Kuemper stopped what did make it through, making 22 saves on 23 shots.
“I had a pretty good feeling about tonight because they called that meeting and those guys said what they said,” Colorado head coach Jared Bednar told reporters. “I was really impressed that our guys [held a player meeting] to try to get over [Game 5] mentally and discuss what was going on at home, and turn the page and get ready. After that meeting, you could just kind of feel a sense of relief, some of the nervous tension that we had at home [was gone] and the focus was back.”
Colorado defenseman Cale Makar won the Conn Smythe Trophy as the most valuable player in the Stanley Cup Playoffs. Voters unanimously gave the 23-year-old Makar the award after he scored eight goals and dished out 29 assists throughout the Avalanche’s playoff run.
“There’s nothing better than this,” Makar said after Game 6. “You dream of this. It feels so surreal. It feels like a video game right now.”
The Lightning came up short in their bid to win a third straight Stanley Cup. No team has won three championships in a row in the NHL since the New York Islanders won four straight titles from 1980 to 1983.
Lightning vow to make more Stanley Cup runs
Still, while Tampa Bay couldn’t keep its streak alive, the Lightning sent a clear message after the Game 6 loss that they will return to contend next year.
“The playoff streak, that ended, but it’s not the end of our run,” Lightning coach Jon Cooper told reporters after the loss. “These guys are right up there with those 1980s Islanders, the Oilers, those teams you talk about for decades. I hope people talk about that group in there for decades because young hockey fans coming up, they’re watching the same team play in the final every single year. You don’t do that by fluke.”
While oddsmakers are giving the Lightning respect while looking forward to next season, it’s Colorado that appears likely to start a new dynasty of its own. The Avalanche are the clear +500 favorite to win the Stanley Cup next year at FanDuel Sportsbook, far ahead of the second-choice Toronto Maple Leaves (+900).
The Lightning (+1000) share third on the odds board alongside the Florida Panthers and the Vegas Golden Knights, just ahead of the Carolina Hurricanes (+1100).