Elliott: Determined Avalanche win first Stanley Cup in 21 years, ending the Lightning’s reign

Elliott: Determined Avalanche win first Stanley Cup in 21 years, ending the Lightning’s reign

When Andrew Cogliano speaks, his teammates listen. After 15 seasons in the NHL as an honest, hard-working winger he had the credibility to speak up when the Colorado Avalanche held a team meeting Saturday night on the eve of their second chance to clinch the Stanley Cup.

They had let one opportunity slip away when they lost to the Tampa Bay Lightning on Friday in Denver. Cogliano was determined they wouldn’t waste a second chance, on Sunday at Amalie Arena.

“I said that at the end of the day, in this situation, you’ve got to play with no regrets,” the former Duck said. “We felt that in Game 5 — I spoke for myself — mentally you were there but you weren’t there, and we’ve come too far to do that and we wanted to be in the moment. And what I was feeling I knew other guys were feeling the same way. We got it out in the open and came here and were led by our leaders and we got the job done.”

They skated off the ice Sunday with the smiles of champions after a 2-1 victory that ended the Cup Final in six games and ended the Lightning’s remarkable two-season reign. “I wasn’t sure this would ever happen for me,” said Cogliano, who was traded to Colorado by San Jose before this season’s trade deadline and helped make it happen with his grit and smarts.

The Avalanche’s win was a win for those who like high-tempo hockey, for finding and developing mobile defenseman like Cale Makar — who won the Conn Smythe Trophy as the most valuable player in the playoffs — and Bowen Byram, born four days after the Avalanche’s previous Cup triumph in 2001.

It happened because Colorado was the better team in the Final, the fresher team. After 71 playoff games over three seasons the Lightning had the bruises and sprains and strains of a team that had played a lot of hockey and was fueled the last few games by sheer pride and heart. “We’re not done,” said coach Jon Cooper, who embraced his Colorado counterpart, Jared Bednar, at center ice.

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Colorado Avalanche players celebrate immediately after their Stanley Cup win over the Tampa Bay Lightning on Sunday.

(John Bazemore / Associated Press)

Colorado had its share of injuries, too, but its depth proved as essential as its speed and strong special teams play. Avalanche owner Stan Kroenke, who also owns the Super Bowl champion Rams and will have to expand his trophy case, paid tribute to the Lightning while watching his players and coaches celebrate on the ice.

“I knew we had a really good team. Doesn’t always mean you’re going to win,” Kroenke said. “The Lightning are a great team. I thought they were very poised and our guys, through the series, grew that way.

“We had some fast skaters, but you have to learn how to win.”

In winning the third Cup title in franchise history, following triumphs in 1996 and 2001, the Avalanche learned that the Stanley Cup’s listed weight of 35 pounds doesn’t include the dreams it holds.

Colorado captain Gabriel Landeskog lifts the Stanley Cup after the Avalanche’s win over the Lightning on Sunday.

(Phelan Ebenhack / Associated Press)

Colorado captain Gabriel Landeskog, who crawled to the bench in the final minutes after blocking a shot and losing his skate blade, lived his dream. He received the Cup from NHL deputy commissioner Bill Daly, the stand-in for COVID-stricken commissioner Gary Bettman, and held the gleaming trophy high above his head, shouting and grinning in delight. The Cup passed from eager hand to eager hand, from youngsters like Byram to veterans like Cogliano and former Duck Josh Manson and former King Jack Johnson, who was traded by the Kings to Columbus in 2012, before they won the first of their two Cup titles in three seasons.

“Unbelievable. It’s still surreal. I still can’t believe it actually happened,” Johnson said. “Good things don’t come easy, and waiting so long made this that much sweeter.”

Manson had been upset when the Ducks traded him to the Avalanche. It turned out to be the best thing that had happened in his career. “I didn’t know it at the time,” he said, “but it led me to this moment and I couldn’t be more grateful.”

The Lightning, backed by a passionate crowd, came out with the right mix of intensity and urgency in the first period. The Avalanche looked nervous and easily rattled, taking an early penalty and giving up the game’s first goal, which resulted from a turnover by Makar. The Norris Trophy winner as the league’s top defenseman during the regular season unwittingly gave the puck away to Ondrej Palat, who found Steven Stamkos in front of the net. Stamkos didn’t miss the point-blank shot, scoring his 11th goal of these playoffs.

Colorado pulled even early in the second period, on a play the Lightning protested vehemently but unsuccessfully. A delayed penalty was pending against the Lightning before Nathan MacKinnon squeezed a shot over Andrei Vasilevskiy’s right pad, and the Avalanche contended that the whistle should have been blown before the shot because Tampa Bay’s Nick Paul had touched the puck. The officials huddled but let the goal stand. Byram and Landeskog were credited with the assists on MacKinnon’s 13th playoff goal.

As the game became nastier, Colorado surged ahead at 12:28 of the second period. Artturi Lehkonen, acquired by Colorado from Montreal shortly before the trade deadline, was set up by MacKinnon for a shot from the left circle that gave Colorado its first lead of the game.

The Avalanche held on, absorbing the best that the Lightning could muster with them from Denver. “We deserved to win,” Cogliano said. And hockey fans deserved this treat of splendid hockey between a champion that only grudgingly relinquished its crown and a champion in the making.

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