‘Totally not acceptable’: Avalanche's speed is running Lightning out of series

Cale Makar, Valeri Nichushkin each had two goals, Mikko Rantanen dished out three assists, and Darcy Kuemper made 16 saves as the Colorado Avalanche triumphed over the Tampa Bay Lightning 7-0, and take a 2-0 lead in the Stanley Cup Final.

DENVER — Steven Stamkos knows what you’re thinking.

You watched, possibly with mouth agape, the two-time champions get run out of the barn 7-0 on the final Saturday night of the hockey season.

You witnessed a relentless Colorado Avalanche squad that doesn’t only look poised to accept the torch but to rip it from the Tampa Bay Lightning’s grizzled grip, possibly with limb attached.

Game 2 was a dismantling. A statement. A searing, singing stunner of the most lopsided order.

“You guys all saw what happened tonight. That's totally not acceptable,” Stamkos said, “Especially at this time of year.

“Listen, people are gonna be watching this game tonight and probably think the series is over. But our group, we're a very resilient group.

"Whether it's 1-0 or 7-0 or 10-0, it's a loss in the playoffs — and you gotta move on. We've got to man up, as a team and as a person. Our team is going to do that. Let’s get back home in front of our fans, and let's see what we're made of."

Well, as they set a franchise record with seven consecutive playoff wins and improve to a silly 14-2 this post-season, we’re getting a good idea of what the Avalanche are made of. They are raging bulls wearing rocket skates and wielding wizard wands.

"Our speed is something that’s unmatched by any team in this league right now," Avs defenceman Devon Toews said. "Our team speed is just incredible. We play the game fast. We play the game hard. We’re kinda relentless in our offensive attack.

"They’ve had to go through some big animals. Toronto and Florida and New York are all big animals in this league right now. I just think we’re a little bit of a different animal.”

So far, this unique beast — one that has learned the way to never ease on the gas pedal — is devouring Tampa with greedy chomps.

Colorado’s special teams are superior. Its breakouts are cleaner. Its forecheck is fiercer, and its back pressure is more effective. Heck, even its goalie is having a better series, if only because the puck so seldomly scoots down to Darcy Kuemper’s end.

The Avalanche have limited the Lightning to just 40 shots over six-plus periods. At even-strength, Colorado is generating 70 per cent of expected goals and outscoring its opponent 11-3 in real ones.

To find any aspect of this series through two games in which Tampa has an edge is to lie to yourself.

This is not about matchups or discipline or goaltending; This is about one side executing their identity to a T, and another getting swallowed by waves of pressure and purpose.

“They’re playing at an elite level right now. Give them credit. We are not,” Lightning coach Jon Cooper said.

“Does it suck losing a game like that? For sure. We’re not used to it. It doesn’t really happen to us. But is it going to happen at times? Yeah, it is. You’re just hoping it doesn’t happen in the Stanley Cup Final.”

Styles dictate fights.

And as adaptable and savvy as Cooper’s bunch can be, one can’t help but wonder if Colorado’s brand of hockey is simply too quick for the most-used legs in hockey over the past three years.

In Game 2, you’d be karaoke drunk if you downed a shot for every odd-man rush charging Andrei Vasilevskiy’s way. The guy stopped two clear breakaways and still got shelled.

Cale Makar scored highlights on the power-play and shorthanded.

Defenceman Josh Manson sniped on a 4-on-1 rush, thanks to a risky pinch by Ryan McDonagh — one of about 18 skaters who had a rough night.

So out of sorts were the Lightning that Stamkos tried mixing things up with Toews, Ondrej Palat committed a bad O-zone cross-check on Makar, and Corey Perry committed three minor penalties inside Kuemper’s crease. (“Perry sucks!” chants rang out in Ball Arena.)

They were searching for a spark that never came. Pedaling a tricycle into a gale-force wind.

"It's certainly the fastest team that we played," Stamkos said. "So, we got to find a way to slow them down, there's no question. But that’s part of our execution, too — putting pucks in areas where you can neutralize their speed and not turning the puck over, not giving them freebies, which I thought we did tonight."

Ask yourself this: Can the Lightning win four of five against this freight train?

No doubt, Tampa has more to give. But Colorado can taste it now, and if Game 2 is any indication, the Avs won’t be slowing down.

“Am I shocked that we lost 7-zip? I mean, I don't think we saw that coming. But in saying that, we have to man up, and we have to do better,” Stamkos said.

Added Cooper: “We’ve been able to circle the wagons and respond. Disappointed in the way the game went tonight, there’s no question. But I’m not questioning our team. They’re ballers in there. So, turn the page. Move on to Game 3.”

Fox’s Fast 5

• Left out to hang through all seven goals, Vasilevskiy has still only been pulled once in 94 playoff starts — and not since 2018. (This marked just the second time in Vasilevskiy's career he gave up seven.)

Did Cooper consider a mercy pull?

“Listen. This is the playoffs. And we’re here to win hockey games. Vasi gives us the best chance to win a hockey game. He’s our guy. He’s going to be there in a couple nights. No,” Cooper replied.

“He’s the best goalie in the world. And we win together, we lose together. Even if I did, I don’t think he would have come out. That’s what a competitor he is. That’s why he’s the best.”

• Jared Bednar is now two wins away from a coaching Triple Crown: capturing titles at all three professional levels in North America. He has already led an ECHL team (2009 South Carolina Sting Rays) to a Kelly Cup and an AHL club (2016 Lake Erie Monsters) to a Calder Cup.

“I was not aware of that. That's pretty cool that he has that opportunity,” defenceman Jack Johnson said. “It just speaks to his knowledge and success as a coach and being able to get the most out of his players.”

• This borderline knee-on-knee by Ross Colton on Cale Makar did not yield a penalty call. Makar was in some pain afterward:

“I don't have much of a take on that. It's hockey. It happens. I saw him late just trying to dodge it,” Makar said. “Partly my fault. I haven't even watched it yet.”

• The NHL set a revenue record this season but no longer stencils a Stanley Cup Final logo onto the ice. Just ads by eight different companies instead.

• Former Denver Broncos linebacker Von Miller was in the house to witness the touchdown (plus conversion).

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