Stanley Cup: Cale Makar expects significant adjustments from 'great' Tampa Bay Lightning

By Sports Desk June 16, 2022

Colorado Avalanche star Cale Makar reflected on a thrilling Game 1 win of the Stanley Cup Final in front of his home fans, but said he is wary of the adjustments coming from the reigning back-to-back champions, the Tampa Bay Lightning.

In a see-sawing contest, the Avalanche jumped out to a 3-1 lead in the first period, before two Lightning goals in under a minute levelled it at 3-3 halfway through the second period.

The third frame was a hard-fought, scoreless battle, setting up a next-goal-wins finish less than 90 seconds into overtime by Andre Burakovsky.

Makar, who has 22 points in 15 playoff games as a defenseman and spent a game-high 28 minutes on the ice in Wednesday's series opener, told ESPN that the atmosphere in the building was like nothing he had experienced.

"It's incredible," he said. "Obviously the fans tonight were insane – I didn't think they could up the level from the past few rounds, but they were able to do that. 

"It was definitely electric in that building, and it's incredible playing with a great group of guys in the Final like this."

While he was thrilled with the result, his attention quickly turned to the championship pedigree of the Lightning, and why the Avalanche need to be near-perfect to deny them a three-peat.

"Obviously great teams like them are going to find ways to exploit us defensively," he said.

"You look at their one goal where [Nikita] Kucherov goes around [Devon] Toews, and feeds [Ondrej] Palat backdoor.

"I mean I knew he was going backdoor the whole time, I just wasn't there, so overall it's about staying more mentally prepared and giving them a few less chances than they had."

He added: "They're a great team, they're going to come out with a different game plan, which I'm sure will be beneficial for them.

"We just have to be prepared for that, and obviously we're going to come up with a game plan with what they came at us with tonight. You have to adjust, and that's just the way the playoffs go. 

"In order to beat great teams you have to do it, and [Tampa Bay have] been successful in that in years prior, so hopefully we can limit those improvements they make game-to-game."

The Avalanche are now 13-2 this postseason – winners of six games in a row – and have comfortably been the most potent offensive side in their run to the Final. 

Averaging 4.6 goals per game, Colorado are well clear of the Pittsburgh Penguins (4.14) and the Edmonton Oilers (4.06), with another big gap to the fourth-placed Toronto Maple Leafs (3.43). The Lightning are eighth this postseason at 3.06.

Tampa Bay have instead been getting it done defensively, conceding just 2.5 goals per game, trailing only the Dallas Stars (2.14) who were eliminated in the first round. Crucially, the Avalanche have also excelled in their defensive end, conceding 2.87 per game.

When asked if the red-hot Avalanche have started to think about lifting the Stanley Cup, Makar said it is far too early for that.

"Not yet – I feel like, overall, this team has been so great at staying in the moment, especially success-wise, not looking too far ahead," he said.

"I feel if we start looking too far ahead then this is a team that's going to exploit those little mental lapses, like they did tonight.

"For us it's just staying mentally locked in on each game, and not focusing on the future, just focusing on what we can control in the present."

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