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Stanley Cup Final Game 2 | Avalanche 7, Lightning 0

Avalanche bury Lightning in Game 2

Cale Makar celebrates with teammates after scoring during the third period of the Avalanche's 7-0 win in Game 2 of the Stanley Cup Final.Harry How/Getty

DENVER — Looking like by far the better team against the two-time defending champions, the Colorado Avalanche overwhelmed the Tampa Bay Lightning, 7-0, in Game 2 of the Stanley Cup Final on Saturday night to take a 2-0 lead in the best-of-seven series.

Valeri Nichushkin scored his seventh and eighth goals of the playoffs, Game 1 overtime hero Andre Burakovsky beat Andrei Vasilevskiy again, and even defensive defenseman Josh Manson and 35-year-old grinder Darren Helm got in on the fun with a goal apiece.

Cale Makar scored twice in the third period, inciting chants of “We want the Cup!” from a fired up crowd.

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“They’re playing at an elite level right now — give them credit. We are not,” Lightning coach Jon Cooper said. “They’re two good teams. They’re just playing a much higher level right now than we are.”

Rarely have the Lightning been completely outclassed during this run of postseason success, but they also hadn’t faced an opponent like the Avalanche, who forced them into one uncharacteristic mistake after another. Colorado was dominant in every facet of the game to move two victories away from its first title since 2001.

The Avalanche go to Tampa for Game 3 on Monday night up in the series despite no goals in the series from Nathan MacKinnon.

“We played a pretty good game,” Helm said. “We just played a full 60-minute game.”

The dominant performance started by pouncing on an early mistake by typically reliable Lightning defenseman Erik Cernak when he bobbled the puck at the blue line on one of the game’s first shifts. It was all Avalanche after that.

Their aggressive forecheck led them to draw a penalty on veteran Ryan McDonagh, score on the ensuing power play when Burakovsky fed Nichushkin for his first of the night. It wasn’t his last, and Colorado poured it on with much of the game played in the Tampa Bay end.

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“We came out with a purpose,” said forward Andew Cogliano, who returned after missing Game 1 with a right finger injury. “We got to our game, we skated from the drop of the puck and we just didn’t let up. "

With Vasilevskiy looking shaky and even dropping his head after letting Makar beat him clean on one of many 2-on-1 rushes, the Avalanche made the most of all their offensive zone time.

That may finally be taking its toll, and it’s exacerbated by the blazing speed with which the Avalanche play. They again not only outskated the Lightning but used quick feet to force errors that turned into goals.

“Am I shocked that we lost 7-zip?” Lightning captain Steven Stamkos said. “I mean, I don’t think we saw that coming.”

Tampa Bay fell to 18-2 after a loss since the start of the first round in 2020. The streak of 18 in a row ended in the Eastern Conference final against the New York Rangers when the Lightning fell behind, 2-0, before roaring back.

Darcy Kuemper was barely tested in net for Colorado, picking up the shutout with 17 saves.

“He was just rock solid,” Manson said. “He was exactly what we needed to be.”