Tampa Bay Lightning shot stopper Darcy Kuemper.
And Darcy Kuemper, offensive catalyst?
After stopping 37 shots in Game 4 of the Stanley Cup Final on Wednesday, Kuemper received the secondary pass on Nazem Kadri’s goal in overtime, capping his night of redemption.
After allowing five goals on 22 shots and watching the final 28 minutes from the bench in Monday’s Game 3 loss, Kuemper was rock solid save for Victor Hedman’s backhand goal in the second period. It was the only blemish on Kuemper’s scorecard as the Avalanche put themselves in position to win the Cup on home ice Friday night.
The Lightning had 39 shots, the most by an Avalanche opponent in the playoffs, including 17 shots in the first period, one more than their entire Game 2 total.
“He was awesome,” teammate Nathan MacKinnon said of Kuemper. “I thought even in Game 3 he had some bad luck with some of those goals and we also suspended him to dry a few of them. (In game 4) it was the Kuemps we knew, no doubt.
MacKinnon and his teammates had no doubts and neither did coach Jared Bednar.
Kuemper said he and Bednar had “a good talk (Tuesday) and he said there was no doubt that I was going to come back and I wanted 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 defensive tightening kicked in after the first goal. According to Natural Stat Trick, the Lightning had 13 “high danger” chances to 20 in Game 3.
After Cirelli’s goal, none of the Lightning’s 12 remaining shots in the first period came from inside 15 feet.
In the second period, Kuemper had three key sequences: a stop from a deflection by Ondrej Palat, consecutive saves on backhands from Hedman (23 and 14 feet – Kuemper moved well on the other side of the net to stopping the rebound) and a point-break in white from Ross Colton when time expired.
In the third period, only one of the Lightning’s 10 shots on goal came from inside 40 feet — a 21-foot backhand from Hedman from a difficult angle.
In overtime, dominated by the Avalanche, the Lightning’s three shots on goal went from 27 (after a Bo Byram turnover), 153 and 35 feet.
“I thought he had a fight,” Bednar said of Kuemper. “You go through our roster, there are guys who had bad playoff games. It’s so much more amplified when he’s a keeper because he’s your last line of defense.
This is to be expected. But the first line of attack?
In the first overtime, the teams have the long change of their zone. The Avalanche were particularly dominant during a streak where they held the Lightning zone for 42.3 seconds. Once the puck was cleared on the ice, the Lightning ran for a change and recognizing the opening, Kuemper, instead of setting the puck for Bo Byram to carry it around the net, threw a pass past Artturi Lehkonen.
“Everyone looked exhausted on their end, so I just tried to get back up (the ice) as fast as I could and hopefully get something out of the rush,” Kuemper said.
Lehkonen passed to Kadri, who scored the winner. Kuemper’s assist was the first by an Avalanche goaltender in his three Stanley Cup Final appearances and capped his redemption game.
“We need him to play well and we need him to make a difference,” said Andrew Cogliano. “I thought he did that.”
If Kuemper makes it one more time, he’ll join Patrick Roy as the Cup Avalanche-winning goalies.