Avalanche end Lightning dynasty to win first Stanley Cup in 21 years

All dynasties fall.

The Colorado Avalanche have ended the Tampa Bay Lightning's rule atop the NHL world, winning their third Stanley Cup in franchise history and first in 21 years with a 2-1 victory over the defending champions in Game 6 on Sunday night at Amalie Arena.

Artturi Lehkonen kept with his theme of scoring in major moments, converting a go-ahead goal and eventual game-winner minutes past the halfway mark of the second period.

Nathan MacKinnon also delivered in what had been a quiet series offensively, claiming the other Avalanche goal and finishing with two points.

Darcy Kuemper emerged victorious from a perceived mismatch with Lightning star netminder Andrei Vasilevskiy. He needed just 22 saves as the Avalanche locked down the Lightning with a brilliant third-period performance.

The Avalanche are on top of the hockey world after winning the Stanley Cup. (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
The Avalanche are on top of the hockey world after winning the Stanley Cup. (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images) (Bruce Bennett via Getty Images)

Cale Makar was named the Conn Smythe Trophy winner as the Most Valuable Player of the Stanley Cup playoffs. He finished with 29 points in 20 games, including seven in the Stanley Cup Final. He's the youngest player since Jonathan Toews to win the award, and remains second only to Bobby Orr among defensemen for points per game for a postseason career.

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Avalanche captain Gabriel Landeskog accepted the Stanley Cup from Gary Bettman's right-hand man, Bill Daly, and, after savouring his hoist, quickly passed it to the longest-serving member of the team, former No. 1 overall draft selection Erik Johnson.

Andrew Cogliano, Jack Johnson, and Nazem Kadri were among veterans who soon had their hands on sports' greatest prize.

With the amount of talent Joe Sakic and his management team have assembled over a five-year build to end all five-year builds, this crowning moment seemed inevitable. But as this series plunged further and further into its depths, it felt like the championship was slipping through the Avalanche's grasp. Incredibly, Lehkonen's goal provided the Avalanche with their first lead since the early moments of Game 3.

Though perhaps at a disadvantage in key metrics such as speed, depth and health, the Lightning were, in some ways, taking hold of the series.

And after spoiling the first chance for the Avalanche to hoist the Stanley Cup at home with a near-perfect road victory, the Lightning once again checked off that key requisite toward a repeat performance by claiming an early lead.

Steven Stamkos scored his 11th of the postseason under four minutes into the game, igniting the building and allowing the Lightning to fall into the suffocating structure they have used to overcome their last 11 postseason opponents.

But there was plenty of time for the Avalanche to chip away, and on a delayed penalty in the second period, MacKinnon whipped a one-time shot by Vasilevskiy on a smart pass from Bowen Byram to put Colorado on the board.

The Lightning didn't react to losing the lead particularly well.

Patrick Maroon and Stamkos were fortunate to avoid a penalty after the Lightning thought Pierre-Edouard Bellemare was interfered with as the Avalanche broke out in transition. Moments later, Ryan McDonagh ran Darren Helm from behind, and was penalized.

Tampa Bay managed to kill off the McDonagh penalty, but wasted much of the remaining minutes of the second period, allowing the Avalanche to take a lead into the second intermission.

The game state remained fixed in the third. The Avalanche used their best method to defend a lead, rolling four lines of speed and heavy forecheck to limit the Lightning to just four third-period shots with their three-peat on the line. It was truly a masterclass in defending a lead in a big spot.

All credit goes to the Lightning for battling through another 24 games after averaging that mark over the last two postseasons. And while it's possible they ran out of gas, it seems more accurate to suggest the Lightning ran out bodies.

With Brayden Point unavailable, and Anthony Cirelli, among others, hurting, the Lightning were in some ways reduced to one capable scoring line.

To their credit, Nikita Kucherov, Ondrej Palat and Stamkos were brilliant in these playoffs, but in the end couldn't outscore Colorado on their own. 

Challenges await both teams, but it's possible the torch has been passed from one dynasty to the next with the Stanley Cup exchanging hands Sunday night.

The 2022 Stanley Cup Final was a rare example in the NHL of the two best teams comparing guts in the pursuit of glory. And the Avalanche were full value for their future ring, matching the 2012 Los Angeles Kings for the cleanest path taken to a Stanley Cup in the salary cap era, and beating arguably the greatest team of a generation to finish the job.

So, it's exceedingly possible that the Avalanche will stay here.

And it's not out of the question that the Lightning will be back, either.

After these last six games, who would say no to the prospects of that?

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