Electric response: Lightning clobber Avalanche in Game 3

Electric response: Lightning clobber Avalanche in Game 3
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Should we be surprised that the Tampa bay Lightning responded to a tough start to the 2022 Stanley Cup Final by beating the Colorado Avalanche handily in Game 3?

The answer might be “Yes and No.”

Either way, the Lightning won Game 3 by a resounding 6-2 score, reducing the Avalanche’s series lead to 2-1.

Clearly, the Lightning aim for a Stanley Cup three-peat for a reason. This championship team keeps finding ways to respond to tough situations. They were down 2-0 and looking shaky as recently as the Eastern Conference Final against the New York Rangers. They didn’t flinch.

Yet, with the way the Avalanche thumped the Lightning in Game 2, some wondered if the Cup Final might be short and not-so-sweet for Tampa Bay. Instead, it seems like we may get the battle many hoped for.

Lightning generate 2-1 lead over Avalanche through first period of Game 3

Coming into Game 3, I couldn’t help but wonder: maybe the Lightning need to score the first goal to really slow down the Avalanche?

Hmm, nope.

Throughout the first 20 minutes, things were more even. After creating basically nothing in Game 2, the Lightning looked much better than the Avalanche (then Tampa Bay ran away with Game 3). For instance: despite trailing for basically all of Game 2, the Bolts only managed 16 shots on goal. During the first period of Game 3, the Avalanche fired more shots on goal (14), but the Lightning were close (12).

Of course, the most important scoreboard consideration went Tampa Bay’s way.

First, it seemed like Valeri Nichushkin scored yet another goal. Instead, it was nullified by an offside goal review.

(Honestly, that seemed like the right call, but it was close.)

Credit the young Avs with shaking that off. After a failed Lightning power play, the Avalanche scored on their own man advantage.

Then the repeat defending champions struck twice in quick succession.

Much has been made about Anthony Cirelli‘s defensive work. At times, he’s been a black hole of all offense when on the ice as far as actual goals go. That’s been more than good enough as he’s slowed or even nullified some true stars during the playoffs.

Yet, it’s not as though Cirelli and his line haven’t attempted to create offense. They just haven’t received many bounces.

Keep hammering away, though, and eventually you’re likely to “make your own luck.” That happened when a great Cirelli push to the net resulted in a funky goal.

Less than two minutes later, we saw an example of the Avs’ brave defensive passing sometimes having its drawbacks. Devon Toews‘ pass was just a bit off to Cale Makar, setting up a Bolts counter. Yet again, top Tampa Bay scorers put together some great weaving body and puck movement.

It’s often been Nikita Kucherov running the show. In this case, Ondrej Palat and Steven Stamkos combined for a give-and-go beauty.

Second period: more injuries to watch, Bolts chase Kuemper

Game 3 of the Cup Final added injury situations to watch. Nicholas Paul found himself in and out of the locker room dealing with what appears to be a lower-body issue. Corey Perry was shaken up after awkwardly tangling with Josh Manson.

Even at far from 100%, Paul scored a helpful 3-1 goal. It would be part of a busy second period.

After the Lightning went up 3-1, Gabriel Landeskog scored his second power-play goal of Game 3 for the Avalanche. Once again, the Avs beat Andrei Vasilevskiy high on the blocker side. (Maybe that’s just one of those goals that just happens; perhaps it’s something to watch.)

In Game 2, Darcy Kuemper cruised to a 16-save shutout. The Lightning would not make life so easy for Kuemper in Game 3.

To restore a two-goal lead, Steven Stamkos snuck to a high-danger area to score a nice 4-2 tally. No surprise that Nikita Kucherov factored into the offense with two assists in the middle frame.

[NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs 2022 schedule, TV info]

How much was any of this on Darcy Kuemper? It’s tough to say. Either way, once Pat Maroon scored on a little backhand move, the Avalanche replaced Kuemper with Pavel Francouz.

Truly, Kuemper’s looked shaky at times, particularly since being injured and missing time. It’s not totally certain if Kuemper is the Avalanche’s best option compared to Francouz. Neither, of course, inspire the same level of trust as Andrei Vasilevskiy.

Some second-period saves from Vasilevskiy helped Tampa Bay truly control a game that could’ve been a closer “track meet.”

Quite a rebound by Lightning in Game 3

Was this contest as lopsided as the score? You could argue that Game 2 was as close to a 7-0 contest as Lightning – Avalanche would get. Through 40, it wasn’t overwhelmingly clear that this was 6-2-level dominance.

But the Lightning absolutely punished the Avalanche in key ways during Game 3. This collection of stats captures some of that feeling.

We saw glimpses of Colorado’s speed, but controlling high-danger chances indeed seemed like the recipe for Tampa Bay.

Add Nikita Kucherov to list of Stanley Cup Final injuries to watch?

While the Avs made some third-period pushes, Vasilevskiy and the Lightning didn’t let them back in. Some of the most notable developments may have been some of the hits.

The exchanges most likely to make an impact involved Nikita Kucherov.

First, Kucherov caught Josh Manson with a dangerous-looking hit. Soon after, Kucherov received a hit from Devon Toews and came up gingerly.

No doubt, the injures are stacking up for both the Avalanche and Lightning as the Stanley Cup Final wages on.

2022 NHL playoff schedule: Stanley Cup Final


Game 1 – Avalanche 4, Lightning 3 (OT)
Game 2 – Avalanche 7, Lightning 0
Game 3 – Lightning 6, Avalanche 2
Game 4 – June 22: Avalanche at Lightning, 8 p.m. ET (ABC, ESPN+, SN, CBC, TVA Sports)
Game 5 – June 24: Lightning at Avalanche, 8 p.m. ET (ABC, ESPN+, SN, CBC, TVA Sports)
*Game 6 – June 26: Avalanche at Lightning, 8 p.m. ET (ABC, ESPN+, SN, CBC, TVA Sports)
*Game 7 – June 28: Lightning at Avalanche, 8 p.m. ET (ABC, ESPN+, SN, CBC, TVA Sports)

* – if necessary

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    Sabres agree with Dylan Cozens on 7-year, $49.7M extension

    Jeff Curry-USA TODAY Sports

    BUFFALO, N.Y. — The Buffalo Sabres agreed to terms with forward Dylan Cozens on a seven-year extension worth $49.7 million.

    The team announced the contract. Cozens will count $7.1 million against the salary cap through the 2029-30 season.

    Cozens, who turns 22, is the latest core player the Sabres have extended over the past six months. Buffalo signed All-Star forward Tage Thompson for $50 million over seven seasons in August and defenseman Mattias Samuelsson to a seven-year, $30 million deal in October.

    Rasmus Dahlin, the top pick in 2020 who’s a Norris Trophy candidate and filled in for Thompson at NHL All-Star weekend, figures to be next for a big contract. He’s signed through next season and can begin talking about an extension this summer.

    Cozens, who was set to be a restricted free agent, has already set career highs with 17 goals, 26 assists and 43 points – with 30 games left in the season. The seventh pick in 2019, Cozens has 34 goals and 60 assists in 169 regular-season NHL games, all with Buffalo.

    The Sabres, led by Dahlin, Thompson, Cozens and 2021 No. 1 pick Owen Power, are contending to make the playoffs. The organization’s 11-year playoff drought dating to 2011 is by far the longest in the league.

    Stanley Cup champion Avalanche steadily returning to health

    avalanche injuries
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    ENGLEWOOD, Colo. — Had his coach been watching, this might have made for an anxious moment: Colorado Avalanche defenseman Cale Makar catching an edge and falling in the fastest skater contest.

    Jared Bednar wasn’t tuned in, though, and had no idea what happened in the skills contest over All-Star weekend. Only that Makar emerged from his crash into the boards just fine.

    These days, things are definitely looking up for the Stanley Cup champions on the injury front. Defenseman Bowen Byram returns to the lineup, along with forward Valeri Nichushkin. Defenseman Josh Manson is creeping closer to a return. Same for captain Gabriel Landeskog, who’s yet to play this season. Forward Darren Helm is progressing, too.

    In spite of all their bumps and bruises, the Avalanche entered the All-Star break in a playoff spot. To weather the injury storm, Colorado has relied on 39 different skaters this season, a mark that’s tied for the most in a single season since the team relocated to Denver in 1995.

    “Anybody we can get back right now is huge,” said Makar, whose team kicks off a three-game trip Tuesday night in Pittsburgh.

    Byram returns after being sidelined with a lower-body injury since early November. He was an integral part of their Stanley Cup run a season ago, when he led all rookies with nine assists in the postseason. Byram was off to a fast start this season – two goals and three assists in 10 games – before his injury.

    “He’s looking great. He’s buzzing out there,” Makar said of his fellow blue liner. “Hopefully it doesn’t take him too long to get back into game mode. But I think he’s a guy that can turn it on pretty quickly.”

    Byram missed a chunk of games last season as he dealt with concussion symptoms. This time, he was able to be around the team as he worked his way back.

    “I was just happy it wasn’t my head,” Byram said. “It was a lot easier to be out when you’re still feeling good and feel like yourself. … I’m just excited to get going again.”

    Count on Byram for as many minutes as necessary, too.

    “I’m 100%, so no reason to ease into it,” Byram said. “I’m confident with jumping back in.”

    Manson will join the Avalanche on the trip so he can skate with the squad. He’s been out with a lower-body injury since the start of December.

    “I do think it helps to get on the road, be around the guys,” Bednar said.

    Landeskog could be back “fairly soon,” Bednar said, but didn’t have a definitive timeline quite yet. The longtime Avalanche captain has been sidelined since knee surgery in October.

    The Avalanche entered the All-Star break on quite a roll, winning seven of their last eight. They’ve amassed 57 points, which trails Dallas (66 points at the All-Star break), Winnipeg (65) and Minnesota (58) in the Central Division.

    One thing the Avalanche are guarding against is another slow start out off the break. It happened over Christmas when the team had a few days off and promptly went 0-4-1 upon their return.

    “It’s just shifting the mentality back to game mode. No more vacation,” Makar said. “We still have a long way to go. We’re not where we want to be right now. But there’s a lot of time left.”

    Kraken add some size, acquire Jaycob Megna from San Jose

    Stan Szeto-USA TODAY Sports

    SEATTLE — The Seattle Kraken acquired defenseman Jaycob Megna from the San Jose Sharks in exchange for a 2023 fourth-round draft pick.

    Megna is in the midst of his best season with 12 points in 48 games for the Sharks while averaging more than 19 minutes per game.

    “Jaycob has shown with his play this season that he is a responsible defenseman that can be relied on in all situations,” Seattle general manager Ron Francis said. “He provides welcome depth to our defensive group and we are happy to have him join our organization.”

    The 6-foot-6, 220-pound Megna will add some size and bulk to Seattle’s lineup. Megna ranked fifth for San Jose in both blocked shots and hits.

    Megna previously played for Anaheim for parts of three seasons between 2016-19. The 48 games played this season is a career-high for the 30-year-old.

    Seattle is tied for the lead in the Pacific Division and will return from the All-Star break beginning against the New York Islanders.

    Islanders sign Bo Horvat to 8-year deal after trading for him

    Bob Frid-USA TODAY Sports

    The New York Islanders signed center Bo Horvat to an eight-year contract less than a week after acquiring him in a trade with the Vancouver Canucks.

    The team announced the contract after their first practice following the All-Star break. Horvat’s deal is worth $68 million and carries a $8.5 million salary cap hit through the 2030-31 season.

    General manager Lou Lamoriello joked to reporters at practice on Long Island that Horvat’s contract was “too long and it’s too much money.”

    The Islanders sent forward Anthony Beauvillier, prospect Aatu Raty and a protected first-round pick to the Canucks for Horvat . He was set to be an unrestricted free agent after the season, and the trade was a result of Vancouver and Horvat’s camp being unable to reach a deal last summer.

    Lamoriello and Horvat expressed confidence about getting a deal done after the trade. The 27-year-old has scored more than 30 goals for a second consecutive season.

    Horvat was chosen as an All-Star and played for the Pacific Division despite the trade. He played with longtime Canucks teammate Elias Pettersson and combined on one last goal together before parting ways.

    “I want to get going,” Horvat said after the All-Star 3-on-3 tournament. “That’s enough. Let’s start playing some games and getting to know the guys. I just want to start playing hockey again.”

    Horvat was on vacation with his family in Orlando when he was traded. He said coach Lane Lambert wanted him to enjoy All-Star festivities before getting rolling with the Islanders, who play at the Philadelphia Flyers.

    “Obviously getting my legs under me is going to be No. 1 and getting systems down and obviously chemistry with the new linemates and stuff like that,” Horvat said.

    After facing the Flyers and Seattle, Horvat will play against his former team when Vancouver visits UBS Arena.