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Nichushkin Stays Hot, Avalanche Take Commanding 2-0 Series Lead Over Lightning In Stanley Cup Final

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The Tampa Bay Lightning came into Game 2 of the 2022 Stanley Cup Final with a plan.

But like Mike Tyson once said, everybody’s got a plan until they get punched in the face. Or in this case, an avalanche of seismic proportions. Lightning head coach Jon Cooper said the key to evening up the series at two was weathering the storm in the first 10 minutes from the Colorado Avalanche.

And yet, after those 10 crucial minutes of play inside Ball Arena, Colorado held a 2-0 advantage — just as they did in Game 1. The Avalanche’s onslaught started early and never let up, as Colorado defeated Tampa Bay, 7-0, to take an all-important 2-0 series lead. Why’s that so important, you ask? Teams leading 2-0 in the Stanley Cup Final are 47-5 all-time.

The touchdown + extra point loss is Tampa Bay’s worst in its playoff history, topping the 5-0 defeat against the Toronto Maple Leafs in Round 1 this year and the 6-1 loss to the Philadelphia Flyers back in 1996, the franchise’s first ever playoff appearance.

The Lightning, as they did for stretches in Game 1, were slow and plodding, a shell of the team that’s won back-to-back championships. The Avalanche, meanwhile, looked to be shot out of a cannon from the get-go, especially Valeri Nichushkin.

From the first shift of the game, Nichushkin set the tone for the night — strong on the forecheck and quicker to the puck than anyone wearing white. And after Ryan McDonagh took a roughing penalty just 1:01 into the first period, it was Nichushkin who made the Lightning pay on the power play.

The pending UFA continues to drive the price up with his play in these playoffs, and he’s now scored five goals in his last four games.

Not long after Nichushkin hit the score sheet, it was an unlikely scorer for Colorado who made it 2-0. It wasn’t Cale Makar, nor was it Devon Toews, but rather Josh Manson would jump up on the rush and bury a wrister past the blocker side of Andrei Vasilevskiy to extend the lead 7:55 into the first period.

After Andre Burakovsky found twine shortly thereafter, Tampa Bay faced a 3-0 deficit heading into intermission. Adjustments needed to be made, which we’ve come to expect from the Lightning under Cooper.

But there was nothing stopping this avalanche — not on this night. Cooper’s bunch was further overwhelmed in the second period of play, going over five minutes without recording a shot on goal. In the meantime, Tampa Bay’s defense couldn’t stop turning over the puck. Once again, it was Nichushkin in perfect position and he didn’t miss an opportunity to make it 4-0.

The Avalanche have now scored 11 goals through two games in the series and are 14-2 overall during the playoffs. Remarkably, Nathan MacKinnon has yet to find the back of the net in this Final. Makar, who came into the series leading Colorado with 22 points, had yet to even find his name on the score sheet in the series until the third period.

Makar would score twice — once shorthanded and once on the power play, which ultimately gave the Avalanche a 7-0 lead.

The seven-goal margin is the largest in a Stanley Cup Final game since 1991, when the Pittsburgh Penguins defeated the Minnesota North Stars, 8-0, in Game 6 of the series.

The series will now shift back to Tampa Bay for Games 3 and 4, with the Lightning looking for any sort of jolt from the Amalie Arena crowd. Puck drop for Game 3 is scheduled for Monday at 8 p.m. ET on ESPN.


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