By STEPHEN WHYNO, AP Hockey Writer
DENVER (AP) — Andre Burakovsky scored 1:23 into overtime and the Colorado Avalanche opened the Stanley Cup Final 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 began late in regulation when three-time champ Patrick Maroon put the puck over the glass. Burakovsky is one of only two Avalanche players who have won the Cup.
The game likely wouldn’t have even reached OT if not for big penalty kills by the Avalanche, who were 3 for 3 against Tampa Bay’s potent power play. The final kill featured a crucial save by goaltender Darcy Kuemper and a series of clears by Norris Trophy finalist defenseman Cale Makar.
An earlier kill built momentum for Colorado, which opened the scoring on captain Gabriel Landeskog’s goal 40 seconds after Josh Manson’s penalty expired. Manson — one of general manager Joe Sakic’s expensive trade deadline pickups — more than made up for a holding the stick minor with some big hits.
The Avalanche’s other deadline acquisition also kept up his knack for scoring key goals. Artturi Lehkonen had their third goal of the first period after Valeri Nichuskin scored the second as part of a dominant performance all over the ice.
Tampa Bay’s latest additions also played a major role, with Nick Paul outracing Colorado defenseman Jack Johnson to a loose puck for a goal in the first that limited the damage and kept the defending champs in the game. Brandon Hagel, who has been banged up and was a question mark to play, got beaten to a loose puck by Landeskog, an uncharacteristic goal for reigning playoff MVP Andrei Vasilevskiy to give up by letting the initial shot sneak through under his left arm.
In another example of what has made the Lightning the NHL’s best team over the past three years, they turned the tide in the second period with goals by Ondrej Palat and Mikhail Sergachev 48 seconds apart. That set the stage for the first of what should be many fantastic finishes in a series between evenly matched opponents.
The arena was rocking from the start of warmups for the first Stanley Cup Final game in the city in 2001 — also the last year the Avalanche won the Stanley Cup, with Sakic serving as captain. Fans chanted, “We want the Cup!” throughout the leadup and at times during the game, which was a showcase of the high-scoring hockey that has been the standard all season.
Tampa Bay’s most prolific goal-scorer from each of the past two title runs was back, with center Brayden Point returning to play his first game since injuring his right leg a month ago.
Colorado has a series lead despite playing without forwards Nazem Kadri (right thumb) and Andrew Cogliano (right hand), who were injured last series in a sweep of Edmonton in the Western Conference final.
The Avalanche swept Nashville in the first round, as well, and dispatched rival St. Louis in six before taking out Connor McDavid and the Oilers. If anything, Game 1 against the Lightning showed this series won’t be easy for either team.
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