Stanley Cup goes to Colorado
by Lucas Aykroyd|27 JUN 2022
Colorado Avalanche captain Gabriel Landeskog lifts the Stanley Cup trophy. He has become the fourth European to captain an NHL team to a Stanley Cup win.
photo: Phelan Ebenhack / AP Photo / Keystone
The Stanley Cup is coming back to the Mile High City. Artturi Lehkonen’s go-ahead goal lifted the visiting Colorado Avalanche to a 2-1 victory over the Tampa Bay Lightning in Game Six of the finals at Amalie Arena. It’s the third Cup in franchise history (1996, 2001), ending Tampa Bay’s reign as back-to-back champions.
Sunday’s eventual winner came at 12:28 of the second period. Lehkonen, set up by superstar linemate Nathan MacKinnon, fired a quick shot from the left faceoff circle that beat Lightning netminder Andrei Vasilevski. MacKinnon had the tying goal early in the second period, after Tampa Bay captain Steven Stamkos opened the scoring just 3:48 into the game.

“It feels great,” said Lehkonen, who also got the 6-5 overtime winner to complete Colorado’s four-game sweep of the Edmonton Oilers in the conference finals. “The puck was bouncing today a lot, but I got the shot off, and it was just good that it went in.”
This was the only time a Finnish player has scored the Stanley Cup winner since Jari Kurri achieved that feat for Edmonton, who beat the Philadelphia Flyers 3-1 in Game Seven in 1987. And it was an ideal ending to this dream year for Finnish hockey.

2022 is now the only year in which players from one nation (Finland) have scored the Olympic gold medal-winner (Hannes Bjorninen, 2-1 vs. ROC), the World Championship gold medal-winner (Sakari Manninen, 4-3 vs. Canada in OT), and the Stanley Cup winner. (Sweden also won the Olympics and Worlds in 2006, but Czech D-man Frantisek Kaberle had the Cup winner for the Carolina Hurricanes.) 

That was just one of the many intriguing storylines that emerged from this great final clash, which saw the Avalanche’s blinding speed and puck movement overwhelm a lionhearted Lightning team whose never-say-die mentality kept them in it to the bitter end.

Tellingly, while Colorado blew Tampa Bay out 7-0 in Game Two and the Lightning returned the favour with a 6-2 win in Game Three, every other game was decided by one goal, including Colorado’s overtime victories in Games One (4-3) and Four (3-2).

The Avalanche’s Cale Makar added to his rapidly growing legend with the Conn Smythe Trophy as playoff MVP. The puck-rushing 23-year-old Canadian, who also won his first Norris Trophy as the NHL’s top defenceman last week, had eight goals and 29 points to lead his team. This puts Makar in truly elite company.
Only Paul Coffey of the Edmonton Oilers (37 points, 1985), Brian Leetch of the New York Rangers (34 points, 1994), and Al MacInnis of the Calgary Flames (31 points, 1989) have ever had more points in one playoff run. Moreover, only Bobby Orr of the Boston Bruins (1970, 1972) and Nicklas Lidstrom of the Detroit Red Wings (2002) previously won both the Conn Smythe and Norris in the same year.

“It’s just been building over time,” said a humble Makar, who was third in playoff scoring behind Edmonton’s Connor McDavid (33 points) and Leon Draisaitl (32 points). “I’ve been here only three years. It was just all leading up to this. If you had told me this would happen in three years, I would have said, ‘I don’t know.’ They’ve done just a great job.”

Gritty Avalanche captain Gabriel Landeskog, who’s worn the “C” since 2012-13, now shares a special distinction with Lidstrom. They’re the only two Swedes ever to captain a Stanley Cup-winning team. Overall, Landeskog is the fourth European with that accomplishment, joining Zdeno Chara of the Boston Bruins (2011) and Alexander Ovechkin of the Washington Capitals (2018).
Landeskog had a ready quip when asked what other teams eager to emulate Colorado’s success should do: “Find a Cale Makar somewhere!”

Seriously, it won’t be easy to dislodge the Avs from their perch. Certainly, the Lightning, who were clearly banged up, will be right back among the contenders. So will the powerhouse teams Tampa Bay eliminated this year, including the Toronto Maple Leafs, Florida Panthers, and New York Rangers.

Yet consider that the Avalanche went 16-4 in this Stanley Cup run. They are a dominant force. Beyond their superstar core players, trade deadline additions like Lehkonen (Montreal), Josh Manson (Anaheim Ducks), and Andrew Cogliano (San Jose Sharks) provided the rocket fuel Colorado needed to cross the finish line after bowing out in the second round in the previous three playoffs.

Cogliano and Jack Johnson offered a feel-good story, both being rare examples of guys who win the Cup after playing more than 1,000 career NHL games. Avs defenceman Erik Johnson, who was the #1 overall pick of the St. Louis Blues in 2006, would have fallen into the same category if his career wasn’t riddled with injuries.

And such veterans had a special appreciation for what they achieved in dethroning Tampa Bay.

Lightning veteran Pat Maroon, who also won the Cup with St. Louis in 2019, missed out on sipping champagne for the fourth straight year. “We should be proud of ourselves for the last three years, but this one stings because of what our guys battled through every day though injuries,” he said. “Some people counted us out on being there.”

The Bolts are the only club to win consecutive titles (2020, 2021) in the salary cap era besides the Pittsburgh Penguins (2016, 2017). Stamkos parlayed his best regular season ever (106 points) into his most prolific playoff run ever (19 points). Brainy Russian superstar Nikita Kucherov’s 27 points gave him a whopping 93 points in the last three post-seasons combined. Former Conn Smythe winners Vasilevski and defenceman Victor Hedman remain towering presences.

Bottom line: even without Brayden Point – who tallied a league-high 14 goals in each of the Cup runs – the Lightning remained a great, battle-seasoned team. Defeating them is, in NFL terms, similar to defeating the Tom Brady-led New England Patriots in the 2010’s.

“To beat them is probably a little more satisfying, to be honest, because they are champions,” said Cogliano, the former NHL iron man who owns two World Junior gold medals with Canada (2006, 2007). “They know how to win. And, ultimately, when you can beat the champions, you know you really earned it.”

The raw emotion of a Cup victory shone through in other Colorado players’ post-game comments.

“I thought I was done in the conference final,” said skilled agitator Nazem Kadri, who didn’t let a broken thumb stop him from scoring the Game Four winner in sudden death. “It was an emotional ride for me. I never lost hope with my family, my friends giving me positive thoughts and feedback. Just to do it in this fashion, in this building, against that team, it’s amazing.”

“It’s unbelievable,” added MacKinnon, whose 13 goals equalled now-Colorado GM Joe Sakic’s output when the Avs last triumphed in 2001 and tied Edmonton’s Evander Kane for the 2022 lead. “This is what we work for, to share with people you love. It’s not about me, it’s about sharing with my teammates and my family. It means everything.”
The championship parade takes place in Denver on Thursday. There’ll be some partying in Turku as well. That’s the hometown of both Lehkonen and linemate Mikko Rantanen, who shone with 25 points.

– with quotes from the NHL and TSN