Darcy Kuemper, stopper of Tampa Bay Lightning shots.
And Darcy Kuemper, offensive catalyst?
After he stopped 37 shots in Wednesday’s Game 4 of the Stanley Cup Final, Kuemper received the secondary assist on Nazem Kadri’s overtime goal, capping his night of redemption.
After he allowed five goals on 22 shots and watched the final 28 minutes from the bench in Monday’s Game 3 loss, Kuemper was rock solid except for Victor Hedman’s back-handed goal in the second period. That was the only blemish on Kuemper’s scorecard as the Avalanche moved into position to clinch the Cup on home ice Friday night.
The Lightning had 39 shots, the most by an Avalanche opponent this postseason, including 17 first-period shots, one more than its entire Game 2 total.
“He was great,” teammate Nathan MacKinnon said of Kuemper. “I thought, even in Game 3, he had some bad luck with some of those goals that went in and we hung him out to dry on a few as well. (In Game 4), that was the Kuemps we knew, no doubt.”
MacKinnon and his teammates didn’t have any doubts and neither did coach Jared Bednar.
Kuemper said he and Bednar had “a good talk (Tuesday) and he said there was no doubt I was going back in and wanted me to be loose and play my game and that’s what I tried to do. I knew the guys had my back.”
Kuemper solved Bednar’s biggest problem by not being a problem.
“Our team believes in him and I believe in him,” Bednar said.
The Lightning scored 36 seconds into the game when a shot knocked off Kuemper’s mask and Anthony Cirelli — completely uncovered — scored from the top of the crease (nine feet).
But the Avs’ emphasis on tightening up defensively clicked into place after the opening goal. According to Natural Stat Trick, the Lightning had 13 “high danger” chances compared to 20 in Game 3.
After Cirelli’s goal, none of the Lightning’s remaining 12 shots in the first period were from inside 15 feet.
In the second period, Kuemper had three key sequences: A save of an Ondrej Palat deflection, consecutive stops on Hedman back-handers (23 and 14 feet — Kuemper moved well to the other side of the net to stop the rebound) and a point-blank stop of Ross Colton as time expired.
In the third period, only one of the Lightning’s 10 shots on goal were from inside 40 feet — a 21-foot back-hander by Hedman from a tough angle.
In overtime, which the Avalanche dominated, the Lightning’s three shots on goal came from 27 (after a turnover by Bo Byram), 153 and 35 feet.
“I thought he battled,” Bednar said of Kuemper. “You go through our lineup, there are guys who have had bad games in the playoffs. It’s just so much more magnified when it’s a goalie because he’s your last line of defense.”
That is to be expected. But the first line of offense?
In the first overtime, teams have the long change from their zone. The Avalanche was particularly dominant during a stretch when it held the Lightning zone for 42.3 seconds. Once the puck was cleared down the ice, the Lightning raced to change and recognizing the opening, Kuemper, instead of settling the puck for Bo Byram to carry around the net, threw a pass ahead to Artturi Lehkonen.
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“Everybody looked exhausted on their end of it so I just tried to get it up (the ice) as quick as I could and hopefully get something off the rush,” Kuemper said.
Lehkonen passed to Kadri, who scored the winner. Kuemper’s assist was the first by an Avalanche goalie in its three Stanley Cup Final appearances and it capped his game of redemption.
“We need him to play well and we need him to be a difference-maker,” Andrew Cogliano said. “I thought he did that.”
If Kuemper does it one more time, he will join Patrick Roy as Avalanche Cup-winning goalies.