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Colorado Avalanche wins the Stanley Cup, defeating the Tampa Bay Lightning

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TAMPA — As the final seconds ticked off the clock, the players on the Colorado Avalanche bench streamed onto the ice in triumphant glee.

Following years of playoff disappointment, Colorado had reclaimed the Stanley Cup — and denied a powerhouse’s hopes of becoming a dynasty.

The Avalanche scored a 2-1 win over the mighty Tampa Bay Lightning in Game 6 of the Stanley Cup finals on Sunday night at Amalie Arena behind goals from Nathan MacKinnon and Artturi Lehkonen, giving the Avalanche its first championship since 2001 and the third in franchise history.

Tampa Bay was in front less than four minutes into the first period, but Colorado rallied to dethrone the two-time defending champion. Lehkonen got the winner at 12:28 of the second.

The Lightning was looking to become the first team to win the Stanley Cup three straight seasons since the New York Islanders won four straight from 1980 to 1983. But the dynamic Avalanche stole the spotlight over six games of an electric matchup highlighted by speed and skill.

Defenseman Cale Makar, 23, won the Conn Smythe Trophy as playoff MVP after he notched eight goals and 21 assists in the postseason, anchoring Colorado’s blue line with unmatched offensive skill. Makar, who won the Norris Trophy as the NHL’s best defenseman last week, had 28 goals and 58 assists in a breakout regular season.

MacKinnon, one of the best players in the world, was a driving force in the chase for the Stanley Cup. The 26-year-old had another tremendous regular season, recording 32 goals and 56 assists over 65 games in addition to his 13 goals in the postseason.

The Avalanche was unable to close out the series on its first try in a 3-2 Game 5 loss Friday in Denver, with the Lightning’s ­Ondrej Palat getting the game-winner late in the third period.

Lightning goaltender Andrei Vasilevskiy was excellent in Game 5 and continued his stout performance in Game 6, but Colorado was too much for him — and the Lightning defense — to handle. He had 28 save. For Colorado, Darcy Kuemper maintained his composure in the tight game, making a handful of timely saves to finish with 22.

The first period was all Tampa Bay. Captain Steven Stamkos opened the scoring by beating Kuemper in front at 3:48 off a turnover from Makar.

MacKinnon tied the score early in the second with a one-timer from the left circle on a delayed penalty. It was MacKinnon’s second goal of the series — his first was off his skate blade in Game 4.

Lehkonen, who had hit the post earlier, gave the Avalanche a 2-1 lead with 7:32 left in the second off an odd-man rush with MacKinnon. It was Lehkonen’s eighth goal of the postseason.

The Lightning tried to push for the tying goal in the third period but couldn’t find the equalizer. Colorado played the kind of period expected of a team eager to end a series. Tampa Bay had just a few scoring opportunities, and Kuemper was there each time.

The Avalanche was focused on keeping its emotions in check ahead of the series-clinching game. On the road, it felt more at ease with hockey’s biggest prize again within reach.

“Our team is comfortable on the road,” Coach Jared Bednar said Sunday morning. “Yeah, we’ve talked about that a lot — different venue, same game but maybe a few less distractions when you get out on the road.”

Colorado, one of the favorites to win the Stanley Cup at the start of the season, went 16-4 in the postseason, notching two series sweeps.

The Avalanche was dominant in the first round, beating the Nashville Predators with ease. Colorado’s toughest test was its second-round matchup with the St. Louis Blues. If not for Darren Helm’s game-winner with 5.6 seconds left in Game 6, the Avalanche could have faced a do-or-die Game 7. Colorado then swept the Edmonton Oilers in the Western Conference finals.

In the finals, the Avalanche looked like the better team during a 4-3 overtime Game 1 win and a 7-0 Game 2 rout. When the series flipped to Tampa for Games 3 and 4, the Lightning got redemption, throttling the Avalanche, 6-2, in a Game 3 beatdown. The series tilted back in Colorado’s favor in Game 4, with the Avalanche delivering a gut-punch 3-2 overtime win before the Lightning regained its footing to win a thrilling Game 5 in Denver.

Although the Lightning felt short of a three-peat, its accomplishments remain impressive. It reached the finals in three straight seasons, which hadn’t been accomplished since Edmonton did it from 1983 to 1985. Even when Tampa Bay had to replace major portions of its roster after winning its second straight title, it was still a composed, experienced group from top to bottom.

The Lightning had more experience than the younger Avalanche, which was out to prove itself on hockey’s biggest stage. There is no denying that Tampa Bay built a powerhouse, but it was Colorado’s turn for glory Sunday night.

This is a developing story that will be updated.


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