MIAMI: Nazem Kadri lashed in an overtime winner as the Colorado Avalanche defeated the Tampa Bay Lighting 3-2 in overtime to move within one win of the Stanley Cup crown on Wednesday. Kadri flashed a shot past Bolts goaltender Andrei Vasilevskiy deep into the first period of sudden-death overtime at Tampa Bay’s Amalie Arena to put the Avs 3-1 up in the best-of-seven series.
Colorado can clinch NHL championship on Friday with a victory against the reigning Stanley Cup holders in game five in Denver. Kadri’s winner came as he returned to the Avs line-up after an 18-day layoff following surgery on an injured thumb. “That was a huge win, we stuck with it and were able to get it done in the OT,” said Kadri after a game in which Colorado twice came from behind to level in regulation.
Kadri admitted he was not sure his winning shot had found the net at first. “I thought he made the save for a second,” he said. “The next thing you know people are sprinting towards me. It’s a great feeling. “I’ve been waiting for this my whole life so I figured stop waiting and join the party. You couldn’t have written a better story.” Earlier, Tampa Bay got off to a dream start, taking the lead after just 36 seconds when center Anthony Cirelli fired a rebound past Colorado goaltender Darcy Kuemper after Erik Cernak’s shot.
Buoyed by that early strike, Tampa Bay poured forward looking to add to their lead but were unable to find a way past Kuemper, who produced a magnificent display of shot-stopping to keep Colorado in the game. The Avalanche goalie stopped 16 of 17 shots faced and parried away several rebound opportunities.
It was a badly needed return to form for Kuemper, who was pulled during a miserable outing in game three after shipping five goals in a 6-2 drubbing on Monday. Kuemper’s saves included a stunning stop from close range after the Lightning’s Nick Paul was clean through after stripping Nathan MacKinnon of the puck close to goal. Having weathered the first period blitz – when Colorado managed just four shots to 17 by Tampa Bay – the Avalanche turned things around in the second period.
The Avs finally drew level when Mikko Rantanen’s shot deflected off MacKinnon’s skate to beat Bolts goaltender Vasilevskiy. But Tampa Bay regained the lead midway through the second period with a moment of magic from defenseman Victor Hedman. The towering 6ft 6in Swede gathered the puck near halfway and weaved up the ice before rifling an angled back-handed shot past Kuemper to make it 2-1.
Colorado maintained their poise however and again drew level in the third period, with Nico Sturm finishing on a rebound after Vasilevskiy’s save. Colorado looked the far stronger team in overtime and the Lightning had Vasilevskiy to thank for a series of superb saves. Logan O’Connor and Gabriel Landeskog both saw shots blocked by Vasilevskiy while Bowen Byram rattled the crossbar with another effort. Vasilevskiy was finally beaten however by Kadri’s well-taken finish to leave Colorado just one win away from the title. – AFP