Avalanche one win from first Stanley Cup championship since 2001

TAMPA — The Colorado Avalanche know the Stanley Cup will be in the building and that they will have a chance to win it in Game 5 of the Stanley Cup Final against the Tampa Bay Lightning at Ball Arena on Friday (8 pm ET; ABC, ESPN+, CBC , SN, TVAS).

But as challenging as it might be, the Avalanche are trying not to think about potentially celebrating with the Cup on their home ice.

“I feel like every series it’s always, ‘The next game is the biggest one,’ ” Colorado defenseman Cale Makar said Thursday. “So for us our focus is just on the next game and regardless of what happens, we’re still going to be a confident group.

“Obviously, we have a great opportunity here to clinch something great for the team, but at the end of the day we just have to focus on ourselves and play our game and then wherever that takes us, it takes us.”

Colorado took a 3-1 lead in the best-of-7 series and closed in on their first championship since 2001 when center Nazem Kadri scored 12:02 into overtime for a 3-2 victory in Game 4 at Tampa Bay on Wednesday. It was an emotional ending with Kadri being the hero in his return after missing four games following hand surgery.

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The Avalanche have been good at enjoying such moments throughout the Stanley Cup Playoffs, though, and then moving on to the next task. In this case, it is trying to finish off the Lightning, who have been resilient in their bid to win the Cup for the third straight season.

Tampa Bay trailed the Toronto Maple Leafs 3-2 in the first round and won the last two games of that series, including Game 6 in overtime, to advance. Then, the Lightning lost the first two games of the Eastern Conference Final to the New York Rangers before coming back to win in six games for their 11th consecutive playoff series victory.

“We know what’s at stake, but at the same time, what’s Tampa [Bay] is going to bring and have to kind of put other emotions to the side and focus on the game at hand,” Avalanche forward Darren Helm said. “Like Cale said, we’ve got a group that believes, but we also know that Tampa is going to be playing their best game. So we’ve got to put all that outside noise to the side and just focus on what we have to do tomorrow.”

Colorado closed out the first round against the Nashville Predators and the Western Conference Final against the Edmonton Oilers on its first attempts to sweep each series. The exception was a 5-4 overtime loss to the St. Louis Blues in Game 5 of the second round.

Leading 3-1 in that series, the Avalanche jumped out to a 3-0 advantage in the second period of Game 5 and took a 4-3 lead with 2:46 left in the third period but couldn’t close out the game and lost on center Tyler Bozak‘s goal 3:38 into overtime. But Colorado regrouped two days later in Game 6, when they came back from being down a goal twice and won 3-2 to advance.

“I like the way we’ve closed out series,” Avalanche coach Jared Bednar said. “I think the toughest one, and the one that we had to bounce back from against the Blues, was a real tough loss at home and we went over there in their building and really well. Then the other series in Edmonton we had to come back from behind in Game 4 and we did a nice job of sticking with the effort and playing to our identity.

“But I don’t see why we wouldn’t come out and try to play to our identity.”

Teams that take a 3-1 lead in a best-of-7 Cup Final are 35-1 (.972) winning the series. The 1942 Maple Leafs are the lone team to rally from such a hole in the Cup Final; they came back from being down 3-0 against the Detroit Red Wings.

Helm was in a similar position with the Red Wings during the 2008 Stanley Cup Final against the Pittsburgh Penguins. Detroit led 3-1 in that series with a chance to win the Cup at home in Game 5 but lost 4-3 in triple overtime before rebounding with a 3-2 victory in Game 6 at Pittsburgh to win the Stanley Cup.

“It’s an opportunity, but kind of what we’ve been saying, it’s a big game that we need to just focus on what we have to do,” Helm said. “I don’t think we’re thinking about anything else beyond the game itself. Play as hard as we can, prepare and let things take care of themselves.”

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