The Tampa Bay Lightning showed their mettle when they rode a four-goal second period to a resounding 6-2 win over the visiting Colorado Avalanche on Monday in Game 3 of the Stanley Cup Final.
Now the two-time champions will look to even the best-of-seven series at two wins apiece when action continues in Tampa on Wednesday.
"We knew this was pretty much a must-win game for us and we played like it," Lightning captain Steven Stamkos said. "We definitely gained some confidence. Now, let's keep it going."
Stamkos, Ondrej Palat and Pat Maroon all collected one goal and one assist for the Lightning, who responded after a 7-0 drubbing in Game 2 to claim their eighth consecutive home win.
Anthony Cirelli, Nicholas Paul and Corey Perry also scored for the Lightning, who received a 37-save performance from goaltender Andrei Vasilevskiy.
The win may have come at a big cost, though. Star forward Nikita Kucherov left the game with six minutes remaining after falling awkwardly following a crosscheck from Devon Toews. The Lightning are also without star forward Brayden Point due to injury.
Tampa Bay coach Jon Cooper had no update on Kucherov's status and said of the hit: "When you're asked questions like that, you're looking for an answer that everyone knows. It's a contact game, but guys know what they're doing. We all saw it."
Before exiting, Kucherov collected two assists to join Bryan Trottier (1980-82), Mike Bossy (1981-83) and Wayne Gretzky (1983-85) as the only players in league history to record three consecutive 25-point playoff runs.
Gabriel Landeskog scored twice for the Avalanche, who took their first road loss of the playoffs after seven straight away victories. Starting goalie Darcy Kuemper surrendered five goals on 22 shots before being pulled. Pavel Francouz stopped nine of the 10 shots he faced in relief.
Mikko Rantanen and Cale Makar both collected two assists for the Avalanche, who know they weren't at their best.
"It's about having a short memory, staying even keel. It's nothing we haven't done all year," said Landeskog, Colorado's captain. "When you win, you don't celebrate too much, and when you lose, you don't sulk too much, either. We'll be back and we'll be fine."
After Landeskog's power-play goal opened the scoring at 8:19 of the first period, the Lightning took their first lead of the series thanks to goals by Cirelli and Palat later in the first.
After Paul, who was hurt in the first period but returned despite obvious discomfort, tallied 86 seconds into the second period, Landeskog notched another man-advantage marker to make it a one-goal game at 4:43 of the middle frame.
Stamkos restored the two-goal edge three minutes later, and Maroon deposited a backhand from the doorstep at 11:15 of the second to chase Kuemper.
Perry netted his team's first power-play goal of the series with 5:02 remaining in the one-sided middle frame, which made him the first player in history to score a Cup Final goal with four different teams (Anaheim Ducks, Dallas Stars, Montreal Canadiens and Tampa Bay), to round out the scoring.
The Avalanche had no answer and will look to rebound with a chance to take a stranglehold on the series.
"I feel we're still in the driver's seat, up 2-1 going into Game 4," Colorado forward Nathan MacKinnon said. "I think we would have taken that before the series started."
--Field Level Media