Blocked shots a factor in Stanley Cup final

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DENVER — For only the fifth time in Colorado’s games in the 2022 NHL playoffs, Cale Makar failed to record a point in the Avalanche’s 4-3 overtime win against the Tampa Bay Lightning in Game 1 of the Stanley Cup final.

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But the bigger takeaway was that he also went without a shot on net.

It wasn’t for a lack of effort.

Makar took nine shots. Three missed the net. Six others never made it to the net, while Nathan MacKinnon had seven of his 13 shots blocked. 

“They’re very good at blocking shots,” said Makar, who leads the Avalanche with 17 points in 15 games. “For us, I still felt like we were creating, just whether or not getting the pucks through or not. But I still felt, even when they’re blocking shots, our forwards are doing a good job retrieving those. For us, it’s just trying to get past that second layer.”

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Tampa Bay, which ranks fifth in the playoffs in blocked shots per 60 minutes, has made a point of trying to limit Makar’s effectiveness in the offensive zone. But head coach Jon Cooper acknowledged that the defenceman is going to get his chances. It’s just a matter of trying to limit them as much as possible.

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“I think he’s just going to keep coming and keep shooting,” Cooper said of Makar, who has taken the 12th-most shots of any player in the post-season. “But if you’re thinking he’s not going to have a shot on goal in the series, you’re sorely mistaken. At some point, he’s going to get them through. We were just probably fortunate enough that we were in lanes. We were a little patient with him. But again, he’s eventually going to get some through and I don’t think he’s going to stop shooting. But if we can keep doing this, that helps our game.”

THAT VASILEVSKIY STAT

Having allowed four goals in Game 1, it’s fair to say that Tampa Bay goalie Andrei Vasilevskiy had one of his shakiest starts of the playoffs. It’s also fair to expect that he will be better in Game 2 on Saturday.

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After all, he is 17-1 following a loss in the past three playoffs.

“The record is not a fluke but we can’t rely on that either,” said Lightning defenceman Victor Hedman. “It’s a team game, obviously, but having him back there gives us a lot of confidence. We believe in one another and (Vasilevskiy’s) mental strength is out of this world.”

Beyond that, he seems to need a game to find his form. In four Game 1s this year, Vasilevskiy is 1-3 with a 3.99 goals-against average and .884 save percentage. In the rest of the games, he has posted a 1.90 GAA and a .939 save percentage.

“Once he’s got a feel for the other team — and it’s usually only taken him a game — he’s been outstanding,” said Lightning head coach Jon Cooper. “Vasy dials himself in. He had a (two-day) break. Now he’s got a feel for the way they play, the speed they play with, where they shoot from, all those things, and that’s what great goalies do. They can figure out teams.”

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PAUL’S TAMPA WELCOME

With four goals and eight points — including the Game 7 goal that eliminated the Toronto Maple Leafs in the first round — there is a case to be made that Tampa Bay’s acquisition of Nick Paul might be the best deal made at this year’s trade deadline.

For Paul, picked up from the Ottawa Senators, a lot of what has made the transition so seamless had to do with how he was received by his new teammates.

“As soon as I got traded I got team texts welcoming me to the team, I get there and they take me out for dinner. Made me feel right at home,” said Paul. “I mean, as soon as I got there right off the ice, they made me feel part of the team. Going to practice, the coaches had open communication with me to kind of let me know where they see me with their players and where they see me in this team, and what kind of role I’ll be playing, where the team has the most success and where I can help out the most. So I think it was a pretty good transition from all the players, the coaching staff and then just kind of fitting into my role right away.”

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ALTITUDE ADJUSTMENT

Though Tampa Bay players played down the effects of the higher altitude for coming out sluggish in Game 1, Josh Manson said it was a “big deal” for him after being traded to Colorado.

“I mean, you get out, you get a little bit of an extended shift and you get off and you start breathing, thinking you’re going to recover but the recovery just doesn’t come,” said Manson. “It’s almost like the air that’s coming in isn’t really doing anything for you. So my first week, first week-and-a-half here after the trade, it took a little bit of time. 

“The practices felt tougher, everything just felt a little bit more difficult, but once you settle in and acclimate, then it makes a big difference for sure.”

LOOSE SNAPS

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Nazem Kadri, who has added a stick and some shooting to his daily skates, continues to progress from a thumb injury that required surgery in Game 3 of the Western Conference final. “He’s been getting better,” said Colorado head coach Jared Bednar, adding that Andrew Cogliano is also progressing. “But I don’t have an update on him besides that” … Is momentum a thing in the playoffs? “I don’t believe a lot in it,” said Bednar. “It’s the Stanley Cup final, we know that we haven’t seen Tampa’s best game. They’ll be better than they were in Game 1” … When the Washington Capitals won the Stanley Cup in 2018, the team played Mario Kart on the Nintendo Switch as a way to bond. This year, the Lightning’s video game of choice is golf on the XBox.

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twitter.com/Michael_Traikos

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