The Tampa Bay Lightning‘s three-peat bid remains alive.
After a heavy game 4 loss in which a too many men on the ice violation was missedthe two-time defending champion Lightning won 3-2 on Friday night to prevent the Colorado Avalanche from winning the Stanley Cup on the house ice.
Instead, the series switches back to Tampa’s Amalie Arena on Sunday (8 p.m. ET, ABC), with the Avalanche still holding a 3-2 lead.
“You’re in the series, the Cup is in the building, a great environment for the home side and how do you show playability? You’re doing everything they just did,” Lightning coach Jon Cooper told reporters about his team’s efforts .
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The Lightning got a 35-save performance from goalkeeper Andrei Vasilevskiy, another clutch goal from Ondrej Palat, a rare goal from Jan Rutta and a rare power play goal to beat Colorado.
“We discussed today that we had no choice,” said captain Steven Stamkos. “This was a do-or-die for us. Sometimes you get caught looking a bit ahead and this group has done a great job focusing on the present.”
The Avalanche were even called up late in the game for an ice penalty too many, forcing them to defend rather than push for the equaliser.
The Avalanche outperformed the Lightning in the first period with a combined score of 6-1 in the first two games of the series. But the Lightning led 1-0 on Friday, thanks to Rutta’s first goal of this year’s playoffs on a slack shot that went through goalkeeper Darcy Kuemper.
Colorado tied the game at 5:07 of the second period, when Vasilevskiy couldn’t handle Cale Makar’s floating, deflected shot and the puck landed in the crease for Valeri Nichushkin’s tap-in. It was Nichushkin’s fourth goal of the series and ninth of the playoffs.
Tampa Bay, which was stopped during its two powerplays in the first period and had one powerplay goal in the first four games, eventually connected with a 4-on-3 powerplay at 8:10 of the second period, calling Makar off for tripping.
The Lightning moved well around the puck and Stamkos faked a shot and passed back to Nikita Kucherov, who scored his eighth playoff goal and first of the series.
“I didn’t like that call just because there was no intent,” Avalanche coach Jared Bednar said of the penalty on Makar. “I don’t think he checked that guy. He just looked at me as if he had just tripped over his stick. It’s a tough one.’
Makar tied the game at 2:31 of the third period with a playful goal after Vasilevskiy made the original save, but the rebound went in through Erik Cernak’s skate.
But Palat gave Tampa Bay the win at 13:38 with his 11th goal of the playoffs.
He was left alone in the lock and got a pass from defender Victor Hedman, who was low in the Avalanche zone.
“I was just trying to open up, get a little lost,” Palat said. “I saw Heddy. He saw me. It was an easy shot for me.”
The Lightning overcame a 3-2 deficit in the first round to defeat the Toronto Maple Leafs, and they passed the New York Rangers in the conference final after losing the first two games on the road.
“As good as it feels to expand the series, we realize how hard we’ve had to work to get that tonight, and we’re going to have to replicate that at home,” Stamkos said.
The Avalanche lost in Game 5 to the St. Louis Blues in the second round with a chance to finish at home, but they won Game 6 along the way. They are 8-1 on the road in the playoffs.
“Guys dug in on the road,” Bednar said. “We’ve seen it in the regular season. We’ve really seen it climb up in the playoffs. Guys come in hungry and ready to play.”
Palat Enters Conn Smythe Trophy Comparison
Makar would have been the leading candidate to win the Conn Smythe Trophy as playoff MVP had the Avalanche taken the championship on Friday night.
But if the Lightning can come back and win the series, Palat would be seriously considered.
Seven of his eleven goals came in the third period. Three of them are game winners, including two who scored in the final two minutes of regulation.
“He plays with some of the best players in the world every year,” said Cooper of the pending unrestricted free agent who has won 12 playoffs in his career. “He’s always the third man in his line, but if you ask the other two players in his line, maybe they would talk about him the most.
“He’s a great addition to skill players, to checkers, wherever you need him. He’s just doing his job and he’s being rewarded for his effort.”
Around the ice rinks
Owner Jeff Vinik flew Lightning’s entire full-time staff to Denver to cheer on the team. “He’s a treasure. That man is gold,” Cooper said of Vinik. … Injured Lightning forward Brayden Point and Avalanche forward Andre Burakovsky sat out again. … Fired New York Islanders coach Barry Trotz told NHL.com that he won’t be sitting behind the couch this season so he can spend more time with his family. He was in the running for the job with Winnipeg Jets.
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Stanley Cup Finals: Lightning stays alive with Game 5 win vs. avalanche