Tampa Bay defies the odds in Game 5

DENVER (AP) — The Tampa Bay Lightning crashed Colorado’s party to stay in the hunt for a third straight Stanley Cup title, beating the Avalanche 3-2 in Game 5 on Friday.

Ondrej Palat scored with 6:22 remaining and Andrei Vasilevskiy stopped 35 shots in front of a raucous crowd hoping to celebrate the Avalanche’s first championship in 21 years. The Cup was all polished and in the building too.

He will return to Tampa for Game 6 on Sunday night. The Lightning continues the best-of-seven series 3-2.

Nikita Kucherov and defender Jan Rutta also scored for the Lightning. Valeri Nichushkin and Cale Makar scored goals for Colorado. Makar’s third period count bounced off Erik Cernak’s skate and through Vasilevskiy’s pads to tie it at 2.

It set the stage for Palat, whose shot slipped between the pads of Darcy Kuemper. A brief silence fell over the crowd.

Tampa Bay regrouped after an emotional Game 4 loss at home with an overtime goal from Colorado forward Nazem Kadri. Lightning felt that the Avalanche might have had too many players on the ice over the winner.

A penalty for too many players on the ice was called at Colorado on Friday with 2:43 remaining. The Lightning started the power play and managed to keep Colorado from pulling Kuemper until there were about 30 seconds left. They withstood the late Avalanche bombardment.

Only Lightning showing his champion mettle. They’ve already rallied from a 3-2 deficit to Toronto in the first round and clawed themselves out of a 2-0 hole against the New York Rangers in the Eastern Conference finals.

Completing this win in the comeback series would put them in a whole different category. Only one team has come back to capture a Game 7 final after losing 3-1 in a series: the 1942 Toronto Maple Leafs.

This is a plucky Lightning squad that shows no signs of slowing down even against a speedy Avalanche team and even after all the contests they’ve recorded. Tampa Bay has played in 67 postseason games since the start of the first round in 2020. That’s basically a full extra season.

His determination has impressed Lightning’s trainer, Jon Cooper. His team improved to 3-0 this season facing potential elimination games.

The Avalanche is trying to capture its first title since 2001. Avalanche fans were in top form, both inside the building (a game-day upper-tier ticket was about $1,500) and outside at a nearby party.

Colorado knew it wasn’t going to be easy. Makar said that before the game, this was the “hardest we’ve had so far.”

The Avalanche are 2-for-2 in their visits to the Stanley Cup Final. They also won in 1996, which was their inaugural season in Denver after moving from Quebec.

Shortly after Nichushkin tied the score at 1-each in the second, Kucherov scored a goal from the post. The power-play goal came from Alex Killorn in the holding area, along with JT Compher (holding stick) and Makar (stumbling), creating a 4v3 situation.

Rutta took some of the energy out of the crowd with his first goal of the playoffs. It was in a slap from the side that slipped between Kuemper.

It bodes well for the Lightning: The teams that score the first goal when seeking elimination in the finals are 55-25.

“If we had our choice, we would just write our name around the (Cup) circle,” Cooper joked before the game.

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