Avalanche advantage at special teams paves way for 3-1 Cup lead

TAMPA, Fla. — Once the third period of Game 4 of the Stanley Cup Final arrived here Wednesday night, special teams went away. As expected, the referees let the little things go.

This game was going to be decided at even strength, and it was with Nazem Kadri’s overtime heroics giving the Avalanche a 3-2 victory and 3-1 series lead against Tampa Bay.

But in the 11-plus periods leading up to the third period and overtime in Game 4, the Avalanche has dominated special teams in this series, a big reason why they can clinch the Cup on Friday night. The Avs have won that comparison in all four games, including Game 4 when they went 1-of-2 on the power play and blanked the Lightning on the two man-advantage opportunities they had.

For the series, Colorado is 6-of-13 on the power play and has killed off 13 of 14 shorthanded situations.

“Without special teams, you’re not going to win in playoffs; you’re not going go as far as we have,” Avs center and primary penalty killer Nico Sturm said after the victory. “The thing is, we have full confidence in them. When our power play goes out, I think, ‘There’s a very good chance that we’re going to score right now.’ On the flip side, on the PK, there’s no panic, really, at all.

“We’re so confident in the guys that we have in both groups.”

Sturm assisted on linemate Andrew Cogliano’s third-period goal to forge a 2-2 tie. The Avs never led in Game 4 until they won it.  Cogliano, who had Sturm’s shot bounce off Cogliano’s body and slip past goalie Andrei Vasilevskiy, is also a primary penalty killer. He’s proud of that unit.

“The power play has been a key difference for us, getting timely goals and keeping us in games,” Cogliano said after Game 4. “When they’re out there snapping it around like that, they feel confident. On the PK, we’ve done a pretty good job as of late and we’ve got to continue that. (The Lightning) are highly skilled and best-case scenario, just stay out of the (penalty) box.”

Center Nathan MacKinnon scored the Avs’ power-play goal on Wednesday to tie the game 1-1 at 5:17 of the second period. It was MacKinnon’s first goal of the series and extended Colorado’s power-play scoring streak to five games dating to Game 4 of the Western Conference finals against Edmonton.

“A little adversity early. Not our greatest first period. But we took control of the game the last 50 minutes,” MacKinnon said. “Awesome win, going home, got to win one more. We earned that win. We dominated OT. We had a good third period. Good momentum going into Game 5.”

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Cogliano and Sturm faced a lot of questions about Kadri, who had missed the previous four playoff games after undergoing thumb surgery on June 6. Kadri posted his first shot of the game midway through the third period and then won it in OT.

Cogliano underwent hand/wrist surgery a day or two after Kadri and faced a similar recovery path.

“Not easy. Timelines are moved up months, not weeks, but you know what? Naz is a gamer. At the end of the day, he’s a gamer,” Cogliano said. “He’s a guy who thrives in moments like this and a guy that you want on your team for moments like this — for in the room and the ice. They did everything they could to get him out there and he looked pretty good to me.”

Said Sturm: “He felt, obviously, that he was good enough to go and I thought he looked fantastic.”