Burakovsky’s OT winner leads Avalanche past Lightning in Stanley Cup Final opener

Andre Burakovsky scored 1:23 into overtime and the Colorado Avalanche opened the Stanley Cup Finals with a 4-3 victory over the two-time defending champion Tampa Bay Lightning on Wednesday night.

Burakovsky ended it after the Avalanche failed to score on a power play that started late in regulation when three-time champion Patrick Maroon put the puck over the glass. Burakovsky is one of only two Avalanche players to win the Cup.

The game probably wouldn’t even have reached overtime if it hadn’t been for some big penalties from the Avalanche, who were 3-for-3 against Tampa Bay’s mighty power play. The latest kill featured a crucial save by goalkeeper Darcy Kuemper and a string of clearances by Norris Trophy finalist defender Cale Makar.

An earlier kill gave momentum to Colorado, who opened the scoring on captain Gabriel Landeskog’s goal 40 seconds after Josh Manson’s penalty expired. Manson — one of GM Joe Sakic’s expensive pickups — more than made up for minor stick holding with some big hits.

The Avalanche’s other acquisition also maintained his knack for scoring key goals. Artturi Lehkonen scored his third goal of the first period after Valeri Nichuskin netted the second in a dominating performance all over the ice.

Tampa Bay’s latest additions also played a major role, with Nick Paul edging out Colorado defenseman Jack Johnson to a loose puck for a goal in the first that limited the damage and kept the defending champions in the game. Brandon Hagel, who was bumped and was a question mark to play, was beaten to a loose puck by Landeskog, an unusual goal for defending playoff MVP Andrei Vasilevskiy to give up letting the initial shot slip under his left arm.

In another example of what made the Lightning the best team in the NHL over the past three years, they turned the tide in the second period with goals from Ondrej Palat and Mikhail Sergachev 48 seconds apart. It set the stage for the first of what should be many fantastic finishes in a series between evenly matched opponents.

The arena rocked as warm-ups began for the city’s first Stanley Cup Finals game in 2001 — also the last year the Avalanche won the Stanley Cup, with Sakic as captain. The fans chanted: « We want the Cup! » throughout the build-up and at times during the game, which was a showcase of high-scoring hockey that has been the norm all season.

Tampa Bay’s most prolific scorer in each of the past two title races was back, with center Brayden Point returning to play his first game since sustaining a right leg injury a month ago.

Colorado has a series lead despite playing without forwards Nazem Kadri (right thumb) and Andrew Cogliano (right hand), who were injured in the last series in a sweep of Edmonton in the Western Conference Finals.

The Avalanche also swept Nashville in the first round and took out rival St. Louis in six before eliminating Connor McDavid and the Oilers. On the contrary, Game 1 against the Lightning showed that this series will not be easy for either team.

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