DENVER — What emerged from the Tampa Bay Lightning on Saturday night wasn't their championship pedigree or vaunted ability to bounce back but frayed nerves and maybe a realization that the Colorado Avalanche are coming swiftly for their crown.
Outmuscled. Outhustled. Out-tussled.
Andrei Vasilevskiy and the two-time reigning Stanley Cup champions were thumped 7-0 by the Avalanche, losing not only the game but their cool and their mojo in the process.
This marked just the second time in Vasilevskiy’s 465-game NHL career that he allowed that many goals in a game.
Captain Steven Stamkos was hollering and angling for a fight with the Lightning down 3-0 in the first period. Corey Perry went to the penalty box at the end of the second with Tampa Bay trailing 5-0 after getting into a quarrel in the Colorado crease with J.T. Compher.
The teams got into a scrum with 4:22 left in the third period and the outcome long decided.
The Lightning had shrugged off their 4-3 overtime loss to the Avalanche in Game 1, insisting they’d bounce back behind their great goaltender now that they’d gotten a first-hand look at all that speed and skill the Avalanche throw at teams.
They were equally confident they'd deciphered Darcy Kuemper after erasing a pair of two-goal deficits in the opener before losing in overtime.
Instead, the Lightning became just the third team ever to allow three or more first-period goals in the first two games of a Stanley Cup Final, joining the Minnesota North Stars in 1981 against the Islanders and the Toronto Maple Leafs in 1936 against the Detroit Red Wings.
The Avalanche kept both their lead and their heads all night and now they're halfway to snaring Lord Stanley’s Cup from the two-time reigning champs as the series shifts to Tampa Bay for Game 3 Monday night.
The Lightning's confidence in winning Game 2 and gaining control of the series was well-founded. They were the NHL's best bounce-back team while winning back-to-back titles and reaching a third consecutive Stanley Cup, going 18-1 after a playoff loss since the start of the first round in 2020. Vasilevskiy was in net for all of those games.
Make that 18-2.
Colorado defenseman Cale Makar's short-handed goal early in the third period made it 6-0 and he poured salt in the gaping wound with a power-play goal as the Avalanche improved their league-best home record to 58-8-5 in their last 71 games at Ball Arena, including playoffs.
They've gone 7-2 at home this year and 7-0 on the road in the playoffs.
The Lightning have yet to beat the Avalanche this season, having lost twice in the regular season in Denver, once in overtime and another time in a shootout.
If they don't fix their myriad issues quickly, they won't get the chance to return to Denver after Games 3 and 4 in Tampa.