Hockey – as strange, random and stupid as it is – is sometimes quite a simple game. The storyline coming out of Game 3 was that Tampa Bay Lightning was the author of some market correction to return to the Stanley Cup final after a 6-2 victory to bring the series to 2-1. And since no team has won on the road yet, it is still difficult to fully determine what we have here.
This is an easy descriptor to reach after Lightning was fully on fire (you know?) In Game 2. The 7-0 result tonight was not flattering for Avs, who could give 10 if they wanted to. So seeing Lightning almost completely reverses the result making it look like they’ve landed on the same perch as Avs. They kicked our ass last time, we kicked theirs this time, everyone is equal.
Eh, not so much.
We can throw out the third period last night, thanks to the fact that Lightning has four goals and time is running out, allowing Avs to dominate on any indicator except the scoreboard. However, the first two periods were quite equal, in terms of attempts or expected goals. The number of attempts from each team was dead even after 40 minutes. The lightning overshadowed the expected number of goals in the first two periods, creating better chances in the event of a tie to gain an advantage of 1.74-1.17 and 5 to 5.
Tampa coach John Cooper still defied expectations, hoping he would handle the games to avoid having to fall into a complete trap and trench, as he did against Rangers. And it worked because Stephen Stamkos didn’t have to see Cale McCarthy and Devon Touse as much as Eric Johnson, which allowed them to get a lot further out of his line in Denver. Although McKinnon faced Anthony Sirelli’s line much more often than in Games 1 and 2, which meant they couldn’t turn the ice and the opposition so easily. Sirelli, Heigl and Hedman can handle Avs’ top line much more easily, even if they go outdoors. Better matches allowed Cooper and Lightning to try to get Avs higher on the ice, to keep their defense still in the Avs zone, without allowing them to spin and hit the neutral zone at the highest gear. This is Cooper’s fear of falling into the trap that no system will be able to fully oppose the flight of Makar or McKinnon.
However, even with the matches in favor of Tampa, the first two periods could pass in any way, based on the balance of the game. Instead, the result was 6-2 for the Blues. In essence, the game simply came down to the fact that Andrei Vassilevsky did this with some of Avs’ big chances:
Darcy Kumper, meanwhile, was doing things like this:
Turn the goalkeepers over and Avs will probably win last night. From the point of view of statistics, with all their might Lightning created 3.03 expected goals in the first two periods last night. They scored six goals. Avs created 2.26 and were detained until two. Vassilevski didn’t have to work miracles, he just kept Avs up to what they won. But it was much better than what was happening at the other end.
This was the story for Kuemper of all playoffs, which scored -5.8 goals above (or less in this case), expected in the playoffs in 13 appearances. It doesn’t matter much to the Avs, who have just transported everyone in front of them to game 3 against the Bolts in general. But here’s how good they have to be to get ahead of Quemper’s performance.
Analytically, there is something like the question of what Avs should do online. In seven appearances during Kumper’s absence with injury, Pavel Frankuz was exactly equal in terms of goals conceded. Of course, he hadn’t seen anything like the firepower Lightning could offer (more on that in a second), but he also won four games against Connor McDavid and Leon Dreisitl. However, as various towel hunters will tell you, the games are not played in statistical tables. Avs coach Jared Bednar will not want to start a whole firestorm by switching. Because if it doesn’t work, then what do you do? And yet he has only one or two more free Kuemper pants, while Vassilevsky is more and more tuned to his Avs.
What can save Bednar and Avs, if they need rescue at all, is that Lightning may not have anyone to fill the list. Braden Point’s bold but ultimately unsuccessful attempt to return to Games 1 and 2 ended in Game 3 as he was scratched. It was clear that he was simply not himself in Denver. Nick Paul and Nikita Kucherov left Game 3 with injuries (although Paul kept coming back and leaving, as if the Undertaker’s trick had gone wrong, but he was clearly lame). Avs have their own injury problems, as Nazem Kadri seems less likely to return and will not be able to shoot the puck if he does, Samuel Girard is already out, Andre Burakowski’s status is in the air. It will be as exhausting as matches and strategy for finding open ice.
Whenever this series is decided and whoever wins, the most likely point for balance will be exactly how much Avs can reduce the distance between goalkeepers. Vassilevski will hardly have another game 2, where the walls fail. Can Avs just play a goalkeeper that keeps things between what should be and what’s on the board? That’s all it takes, but Kuemper hasn’t proven he can do it.