Swedish forward Andre Burakovsky beat Russian goalie Andrei Vasilevskiy to cap the biggest hockey game in Denver in 21 years.
In the earliest overtime goal in the Stanley Cup Finals since 2011, Burakovsky scored at 1:23 for a sudden victory, 4-3, over Tampa Bay in Game 1 Wednesday night at Ball Arena.
“This was a dream since I was a kid,” Burakovsky said from the bench postgame after a wild celebration. “It feels amazing.”
In an intense environment, Burakovsky accepted a circle-to-circle pass from Valeri Nichushkin and one-timed the puck past Vasilevskiy, who stopped 22 consecutive shots heading into OT, sending the crowd into a frenzy.
The Avs, who blew 2-0 and 3-1 leads, produced 38 shots and also got goals from fellow forwards Gabe Landeskog, Nichushkin and Artturi Lehkonen (power play). Goalie Darcy Kuemper made 20 saves and backstopped a perfect 3-for-3 penalty kill.
“Bolt of energy, excitement,” Kuemper said of Burakovsky’s overtime goal. “I’m focused on not letting one in and trusting the guys they’re going to get the job done. They made a beautiful play.”
Game 2 is Saturday night as Colorado goes for its third league championship. Tampa Bay wants its third straight.
“I liked our push at the end of the second (period) and I liked our third,” Avalanche coach Jared Bednar said of the second half of the game after Tampa Bay rallied from a 3-1 deficit. “I don’t see why there’s any reason why we have a letdown going into Game 2 knowing the importance of the game.”
It was the first Stanley Cup Finals game in Denver since Game 7 in 2001 — the night current general manager Joe Sakic accepted the Cup and immediately handed it to 40-year-old defenseman Ray Bourque of Boston Bruins’ lore. That game capped Bourque’s Hall of Fame career. Colorado has chased the Cup ever since.
The next chase is three victories away from completion.
“It’s the best hockey there is in the world,” said Avs rookie defenseman Bo Byram, 21, who was born four days after Bourque and the 2001 team hoisted the Cup. “It’s a big win, but we’ll enjoy tonight and then we’ll move on and prepare for Game 2. In a seven-game series, you can’t get caught up admiring the win.”
Leading 3-1 after the opening frame, Colorado saw its lead disappear in 48 seconds midway through the second period with Tampa Bay goals from left winger Ondrej Palat and defenseman Mikail Sergachev. Palat beat Avs defenseman Cale Makar to the net for a back-door tap-in from linemate Nikita Kucherov at 12:51, and Sergachev sent a long wrist shot through traffic and past Darcy Kuemper at 13:39.
It was a huge letdown for the Avs after a fantastic first period.
“They score two quick ones — kind of shocked us a little bit,” said Avs winger Mikko Rantanen, who had two assists in the first period. “Just a reset mindset. It’s a hockey game and it was in our hands again.”
Colorado’s three first-period goals tied for second-most ever through the opening 20 minutes of the Stanley Cup Finals. Only the 1972 Bruins (four) had more in a Game 1.
“Anytime you lose Game 1, you’re not feeling great about it,” Tampa Bay coach Jon Cooper said. “We probably dipped our toes in the water at the beginning of the game and obviously dug ourselves a hole. But there were stretches of that game I liked what we were doing and stretches I didn’t.”
He added: “The right team won the game. So give them credit for pulling it out.”
Colorado’s 2-0 lead emerged after Avs’ defenseman Josh Manson took the game’s first penalty, a holding minor, at 5:07 into the first period. The Avs killed it off, as they did throughout, and scored 40 seconds after it expired.
Byram moved the puck up ice to Rantanen and the right winger shot from the left circle. Vasilevskiy thought he smothered the puck but it tricked behind him and Landeskog swatted it in.
Nichushkin doubled the lead 1:36 later. MacKinnon kept the puck in the offensive zone near the blue line and shuffled it to the big Russian, whose shot skimmed off a defender and past Vasilevskiy.
The Lightning got within 2-1 on a fortunate bounce in front of Kuemper later in the first period.
He and defenseman Erik Johnson appeared to get crossed up on a simple dump-in and Tampa Bay forward Nick Paul beat Johnson to the puck. Kuemper shaded to the left post when the puck bounced in the middle and Paul tapped it in.
But Colorado regained a two-goal lead a little more than five minutes later when Lehkonen made a back-door tap-in from Rantanen on a 5-on-3 power play. Sergachev and teammate Anthony Cirelli took tripping penalties 27 seconds apart to put the visitors in a big hole.
“First game, first win,” Lehkonen said. “We still got a long way to go.”
The two-time defending champions were impressed with the Avs.
“It’s a helluva hockey team over there,” Lightning captain Steven Stamkos said.
footnotes. Injured Avalanche forwards Nazem Kadri (right thumb) and Andrew Cogliano (right hand) skated Wednesday before the full-team morning skate. They both might return to the lineup at some point in the series. Defenseman/forward Kurtis MacDermid took a warmup for the Avs but was later scratched. … Lightning defenseman Cal Foote, the son of Avs legend and 1996 and 2001 Stanley Cup champion Adam Foote, also took warmup but was scratched for the fifth consecutive game. He played in Tampa’s first 13 postseason games.