DENVER | Cale Makar and the Colorado Avalanche weren’t all that interested in glancing back at the simmering controversy over the way Game 4 ended in overtime.
Of way more importance was looking ahead to this: A chance to clinch the franchise’s first Stanley Cup title since 2001. In front of their home fans, too, where ticket prices have soared to more than $1,300 for an upper-level seat.
On Friday night in Game 5, Colorado has a chance to not only dethrone two-time defending champion Tampa Bay, but possibly jumpstart its own dynasty behind a core of young, dynamic players like Makar.
“It’s going to be the toughest one that we’ve had so far,” said Makar, whose team leads 3-1 in the best-of-seven series and boasts a 3-1 mark in close-out games this postseason. “We have to expect them to bring obviously everything they have at us because it’s do-or-die. We just have to be ready.”
The Lightning weren unhappy with how things ended in overtime on Wednesday night. Nazem Kadri, injured thumb and all, scored the winner on a shot that slipped under the right arm of goaltender Andrei Vasilevskiy.
Tampa Bay’s gripe: The Avalanche appeared to have too many players on the ice.
A day later, Lightning coach Jon Cooper softened his stance.
“It’s unfortunate but it’s water under the bridge now,” Cooper said. “It should be a hell of a Game 5.”
All Colorado needs is one win in three tries — two at home — for its third Stanley Cup title since relocating to Denver from Quebec in 1995-96. The Avalanche swept Florida in their inaugural season and earned title No. 2 in ’01 with a Game 7 win at home over the New Jersey Devils.
Back then, Hall of Fame forward Joe Sakic was leading the charge on the ice.
Now, his fingerprints are all over this fast-flying team as the general manager. He saw five players he picked up right before or during the season combine for five points on the tying and winning goals in Game 4. Kadri was acquired by Sakic as part of a deal with Toronto in 2019.
Sakic assembled this squad around playmakers such as Makar, captain Gabriel Landeskog, Mikko Rantanen and Nathan MacKinnon. They’ve been a big reason why this team is 15-3 in these playoffs and on the verge of knocking off the champs.
“You can see they’re hungry,” said Hockey Hall of Famer Bryan Trottier, who won six Stanley Cup titles as a player and another with the Avalanche as an assistant coach in 2001.
“Landeskog’s been in the league for a long time, MacKinnon’s been in the league for a long time and now they’re getting a taste and they’re right on the cusp of something pretty exciting.”
But win No. 16 won’t be easy. Rarely is this time of year.
“They’re probably preaching, ‘They’ve never been here. They’re going to be tight’ and that’s fair,” said MacKinnon, who scored his first goal of the series Wednesday. “But we’ll be ready to go. We’ve been great under pressure all playoffs, all season.”
This is a proud Lightning crew who’ve bounced back before. They faced a 2-0 series deficit in the Eastern Conference final against the New York Rangers before rallying. They also were down 3-2 to Toronto in the first round.
“If there’s one thing I know about this group it’s that we respond well to adversity,” Tampa Bay defenseman Victor Hedman said. “We’re a resilient group. We believe in what we have.”
Avalanche goaltender Darcy Kuemper rebounded from being pulled in Game 3 with a 37-save performance Wednesday. He also had an assist on the winning goal when he sent the puck to Artturi Lehkonen, who dished it over to Kadri. Kuemper became the first goalie in league history to record an assist in OT of a Stanley Cup Final game, according to NHL Stats.
“Great awareness by Kuemps,” Landeskog said.
The Game 4 win marked the 15th time this season the Avalanche have rallied for the victory after trailing in the third. That total (11 in the regular season, four in the playoffs) is tied for third-most in a season in NHL history. The top mark belongs to the Anaheim Ducks, who had 22 in the 2014-15 season.
“Our guys have done a nice job of focusing on our things and it’s given us success,” Avalanche coach Jared Bednar said. We’re going to continue with that.”
AP Hockey Writer Stephen Whyno contributed to this report.