Paul Klee: The NHL’s next big team stakes its territory in Avs’ 7-0 loss to Lightning | Colorado avalanche

DENVER • Say hello, Tampa. Heckuva run.

Now the Avs have the next one.

With a flurry of goals at another pop-punk concert at the Ball Arena, the Avalanche beat the Lightning 7-0 on Saturday night in what hockey historians will recognize as the passing of the torch. ABC analyst and Hall of Famer Mark Messier, 61, called it “the best team-playing performance I’ve ever seen in my life.” It was the most dominant playoff performance these hills had seen from any Denver team, in any sport, too.

The Avs are two wins away from a Stanley Cup title, while somehow speeding up the streak. Now they’re heading to the road, where the Avs are 7-0 in the playoffs.

With 17 minutes left in the regulations, 18,000 faithful chanted “We want the Cup!” – a chorus that will seep into Amalie Arena in Game 3 on Monday. No one in Tampa is going to believe it. The Avs hold a 2-0 series lead and Nathan MacKinnon is yet to score in the Stanley Cup Finals. All the other guys do damage. One wonders how it would go with a healthy Sam Girard and Nazem Kadri as well.

Strange things and comebacks happen in sports. It’s not that the Lightning can’t overcome a 0-2 series deficit. Shoot, they did in the previous round against Rangers. But there hasn’t been much in two games to suggest the Lightning can beat the Avalanche four times in five games. And that is the task now.

The advantage of traveling with hockey sticks is that you can carry a broom and no one will notice. Can the Avs finish sweeping Florida for a second time in the Stanley Cup Final? This Avs postseason was even more impressive than the 1996 Florida Panthers sweep that turned Denver into a hockey town with a football problem. The Avs average more than five goals per game in the Conference Finals and Stanley Cup Finals. They turn the best teams in the NHL into displays of skill. And now goaltender Darcy Kuemper is throwing shutouts. God bless him.

Tampa’s reign expires in real time. You know it, I know it, the Lightning know it.

Also in the first period, Tampa’s actions spoke true. The Lightning started three separate skirmishes away from the puck, pushing and shoving Kuemper at every opportunity. Who knows? Maybe all that nonsense kept Kuemper from falling asleep there. This funny business was the most dangerous action Kuemper had seen all night.

Watching back-to-back champions resort to cheap stuff told the same story as the scoreboard – 3-0 after the first period, 5-0 after the second, 7-0 when Coors Field burst across town and the baseball video board flashed the last seconds of the hockey game. A cheering crowd singing Blink-182’s “All the Small Things” like it’s a church hymn is days away from witnessing the bigger thing.

Tampa’s frustration showed in scrum after scrum as the score spiraled out of control.

“You go through periods during the year when you’re playing well and when you’re not,” Tampa coach Jon Cooper said afterwards.

Props for a championship trainer, but that’s not a spell. It’s the next great team to stake out its territory. Tampa shouldn’t be offended. The Avs do that to everyone. They are 4-0 against the Lightning this season. At this rate, the Avs were playing their last game at home.

Just in case one lucky person attends their first Avs game, the Ball Arena DJ (DJ Triple T) dropped a friendly reminder that blowouts are a norm: “This Is How We Do It” by Montell Jordan.

The Avs are 14-2 in the playoffs. To put that into perspective, according to ESPN Stats, only five teams have made it. The other four won the Cup. Don’t say, just say.

After just 2:57 of play, Valeri Nichushkin scored to make it 1-0. He’s with the second power play, not the headliners, and that doesn’t matter to the Avs. Scoring comes from everywhere. Take the next goal, a wrist from Josh Manson. He’s on the second defensive pair, not the headliner, and Manson was assisted by Andrew Cogliano (welcome, sir) and Alex Newhook. They are in the fourth line.

The Lightning are down 0-2 while keeping MacKinnon relatively quiet. The Avs scored at even strength, on a power play, even shorthanded, the last a goal by Cale Makar.

Makar’s next goal made it 7-0 at 8:32 p.m. local time. Tampa had an early Saturday night.

There were no cheers in the press box at the roof level of section 326. But as a fan of greatness, the Avs kept me on my feet the whole game, the advantage of having only a wall behind you. Witnessing the greatness of Nikola Jokic over two MVP seasons was a thrill one night (when the games were on TV for normal people). Nolan Arenado, third, made the Rockies’ losses worth a ticket.

What the Avs have done is one of the toughest jobs in sport, breaking a champion’s heart. And it breaks. You know it, I know it. After an Avs show for the ages, the Lightning know it.

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