Tampa Bay Lightning showed their resolve to grind out victory in Game 5 of the Stanley Cup final against Colorado Avalanche and stay alive in the series.
That 3-2 win in Denver means the teams head back to Florida, where the Lightning are 5/6 to force a winner-takes-all Game 7. Colorado are 5/6 to seal the series Sunday night and lift the Stanley Cup for the first time since 2001.
Tampa Bay Lightning vs. Colorado Avalanche, Stanley Cup Final Game 6
Amelie Arena, Tampa, Florida
01:00, Monday 27th June, 2022
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TB Lightning 5/6, COL Avalanche 5/6
Tampa Bay faced elimination only once in their cup-winning runs in 2020 and 2021, when they were taken to a decider in last year's Eastern Conference semi-finals against the New York Islanders.
However, they have had a much tougher battle this time around, twice taking must-win games against Toronto Maple Leafs in the first round and also finding themselves in a 2-0 hole early in the Conference final series against the New York Rangers.
But their gritty 3-2 win at Ball Arena on Friday night proved once again that there's no doubting the character of this group, whose self-belief will have been given a huge boost by that performance.
The Avalanche had lost only two of their nine previous home matches this postseason and had blown out the Lightning 7-0 in their last meeting in Denver. And there was no hint of choking on the part of the Avs. Colorado played their usual tough game, twice levelling the match before Ondrej Palat buried the decider with six-and-a-half minutes remaining on the clock.
That result means the Bolts are now 4-0 in their last four games when staring down the barrel of elimination in the postseason. And although they will need to stretch that record to 6-0 if they are going to become the first team in the salary-cap era to win three consecutive championships, it's got to give them a lot of confidence.
While Game 6 isn't quite a must-win for the Avalanche, they will certainly be approaching the match with a completely different mentality than they did in Game 5.
At 3-1 up in the series, Colorado seemed to be cruising to the championship - their incisive offence more than a match for the feted Tampa Bay defence. But failing to put the series to bed at the first time of asking could be playing on their minds as they prepare for battle again.
They at least have some experience of being in this situation. The Avs lost Game 5 of their series against St Louis, but wrapped it up next time out on the road. And they are still strong favourites to go on to lift the Cup, at odds of just 4/17.
Both sides have thrown in one stinker each in the series, but the other three games have been close fought, two of them settled in overtime. That carried on the pattern of the regular season - where one of the two meetings went to a shootout and the other was decided by a single goal - and another tight match can be expected.
Tampa Bay suffered their first loss in nine games on home ice the last time these sides met at Amalie Arena on Wednesday night, but that overtime defeat came in a game the Lightning had twice led and never trailed until the deciding goal went in.
Two nights previous the Bolts had beaten Colorado 6-2, leading to speculation that they had warmed the ice to make it slushy and slow down the Avs' speedy skaters.
In each of the first three games of the series Colorado put the puck in the net twice in the first ten minutes - although one of those was called back for a marginal offside. However, they have not scored a goal in the first period of either of the last two games.
Tampa have done a decent job of shutting down the Avs' most dangerous assets. Captain Gabriel Landeskog hasn't registered a point in the last two games, and while Nathan MacKinnon has been consistently chipping in assists, he has just one goal in the series.
However, Valeri Nichushkin has been a thorn in the Bolts' sides, scoring four of his nine postseason goals in the series, as well as having one disallowed. The Russian could be a key player during Game 6.