Avalanche end Lightning's reign, win Stanley Cup for first time since 2001

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The Colorado Avalanche are Stanley Cup champions for the first time since 2001, thanks to a resiliency that had eluded them in recent years.

The Avalanche tied an NHL record with their 10th come-from-behind victory of the playoffs to beat the Tampa Bay Lightning 2-1 in Game 6 Sunday night and end the two-time champions' reign.

Colorado star Nathan MacKinnon had his best game of the series with a goal and an assist in the second period to help the Avalanche clinch the franchise's third Stanley Cup with a 16-4 playoff record.

“It’s a relief. It’s a 20-pound weight lifted off our shoulders, and it means so much to bring this championship back to the city of Denver,” captain Gabriel Landeskog told NHL Network during the on-ice celebration at Tampa's Amalie Arena.

The Lightning, who were trying to send the series back to Denver for Game 7, got off to a good start when captain Steven Stamkos scored at 3:48 of the first period after a Colorado turnover.

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But MacKinnon tied it up at 1:54 of the second period on a one-timer during a delayed penalty. The Lightning argued that they touched the puck after the penalty, which should have resulted in the play being called dead, but the referees disagreed.

Artturi Lehkonen beat Lightning goalie Andrei Vasilevskiy at 12:28 to give the Avalanche their first regulation lead since Game 3. It ended up being his fourth game-winning goal and second consecutive series clincher.

Goaltender Darcy Kuemper, who was acquired in the offseason after Philipp Grubauer left in free agency, made that lead stand up with a strong save against Nikita Kucherov in the third period. He finished with 22 saves.

The Avalanche have steadily improved since finishing last overall in 2016-17 and had finished second, first and third overall the past three regular seasons.

Colorado Avalanche left wing Gabriel Landeskog lifts the Stanley Cup after defeating the Tampa Bay Lightning in Game 6.
Colorado Avalanche left wing Gabriel Landeskog lifts the Stanley Cup after defeating the Tampa Bay Lightning in Game 6.

Colorado got knocked out in the second round the last three postseasons, last year being particularly difficult because the Avalanche lost in six games to the Vegas Golden Knights after taking a 2-0 series lead.

"They had a tough end to last year," general manager Joe Sakic told NHL Network. "It stung. This group, right from Day 1 in training camp, they're preparing, they're doing everything they could to make this happen."

Sakic, the Avalanche's captain during the franchise's 1996 and 2001 championships, spent the 2022 trade deadline adding grit on the blue line and improving the penalty killing. Defenseman Josh Manson helped with both, and forwards Lehkonen, Nico Sturm and Andrew Cogliano kill penalties.

The moves also helped give the Avalanche the depth to overcome a season-ending injury to defenseman Sam Girard and missed games by Nazem Kadri, Andre Burakovsky and Cogliano. They swept the Nashville Predators in the first round and the Edmonton Oilers in the conference finals, and beat the St. Louis Blues in six games in the second round.

Cale Makar wins Conn Smythe Trophy as playoff MVP

Norris Trophy winner Cale Makar was voted the winner of the Conn Smythe Trophy as playoff MVP after recording 29 points.

Makar (23 years, 239 days) became the youngest defenseman in 52 years to win the Conn Smythe Trophy and third overall to do so at age 23 or younger, following Bobby Orr with the 1970 Boston Bruins (22 years, 51 days) and Serge Savard with the 1969 Montreal Canadiens (23 years, 102 days).

Lightning fall short of three-peat bid

The Lightning had to remake their depth in the offseason because of salary cap woes but got past the Toronto Maple Leafs, Florida Panthers and New York Rangers to reach the Final for the third year in a row. They won only Games 3 and 5 to fall short of the NHL's first three-peat since the 1980s, but they won 11 consecutive series.

"We just ran out of gas," Lightning coach Jon Cooper told reporters.

Cooper brought the entire coaching to the podium as he had after the previous championships.

"It's tough because it's so raw," he said. "We haven't been through this feeling in three years. ... I will always remember this team for what they endured, what they went through to get to this point. You have to marvel at them."

The Lightning never had home-ice advantage in the playoffs and had to deal with injuries, including having star Brayden Point for only two games since Game 7 of the first round. Cooper said other players played through injuries.

"What they went through was mind-boggling," he said. "We would have had half our minor-league team playing if it was the regular season. .... The heart of champions."

Around the rinks

Defenseman Erik Johnson, who has been with the Avalanche since 2011, was the second person to be handed the Stanley Cup after Landeskog first lifted it. He has dealt with injuries in recent years. "Last year, I thought I might have to retire, and here I am Stanley Cup champion with some of my best friends in the world," he told ESPN. "I'm so grateful. I can't believe it." ... NHL deputy commissioner Bill Daly handled the postgame presentations because commissioner Gary Bettman has tested positive for COVID-19.

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Stanley Cup Final: Avalanche beat Lightning to win championship