Hockey types maintain their championship is the toughest to win in all of sports and while I’m not buying that and never have, I’m willing to acknowledge this much with the Avalanche on the verge of winning the Stanley Cup:
It ain’t easy.
What separates hockey, perhaps, is the randomness associated with winning its championship.
The Avs are one game away heading into Game 5 of the Stanley Cup Final because their goaltender, Darcy Kuemper, rose to the occasion in Game 4.
The Cup will be in the building tonight for Game 5 in Colorado because the Avs collectively found another gear in overtime in Game 4 in Tampa.
And the champagne will be within reach if not on ice in advance of Game 5 because the Avs have dominated on special teams throughout the series and won the special teams battle again in Game 4.
All of the above has been apparent, and it makes sense that the Avalanche have benefitted from it well enough to achieve a three-games-to-one series lead.
It’s how Game 4 got to overtime that’s head-scratching, and for the Lightning heartbreaking.
Colorado’s first goal was scored when a rebound deflected off Nathan MacKinnon’s skate.
The second bounced in off Andrew Cogliano’s leg.
Both erased one-goal deficits, the latter early in the third period.
Neither goal directly resulted from an actual shot on goal.
Perhaps that’s why Lightning head coach Jon Cooper was so emotionally drained/exasperated in the immediate aftermath.
Cooper had an apparent issue with Nazem Kadri’s winner in OT. But whether a too-many-men-on-the-ice call was warranted or not, the play still came down to Kadri splitting the defense (Ryan McDonagh and Mikhail Sergachev) and then beating the best in the business (Andrei Vasilevskiy).
That was will and skill in the moment of truth.
That was Kadri rising to the occasion with everything at stake.
The two Colorado goals that preceded it were more attributable to puck luck, and for the Lightning that’s tough to take.
They’ve been on the right side of a few bounces and benefitted from a few calls/non-calls while winning back-to-back championships.
But now the Hockey Gods are smiling on the Avalanche.
It’s their turn, apparently.
They’ve earned it.
But that doesn’t mean they didn’t need a little help along the way.
In hockey that’s often as critical as goaltending and the power play.
You can sell out for everything else, from blocking shots to playing through injuries to inflicting vicious physicality upon an opponent under the justification of doing what needs to be done.
But without the right bounce at the right time, even all of that often isn’t enough.
A tough championship to win, indeed.
But ain’t they all.