TAMPA - On the verge of victory.
The Colorado Avalanche dragged themselves to within one win of their first Stanley Cup in 20 years on Wednesday night, taking an overtime thriller from the Tampa Bay Lightning on the road to push their series lead to 3-1 as they head back home for a pivotal Game 5.
Interestingly enough, the Lightning got off to a torrid start in Game 3, attacking the Avalanche crease immediately after the puck dropped and establishing some serious sustained pressure before Anthony Cirelli cleaned up a juicy rebound in the midst of the scrum to open the scoring.
That early goal would set the stage for a terrific Tampa first period, during which the Lightning managed to outshoot the Avs by a whopping 17-4 margin and barely allow Colorado's high-flying forwards to even enter the offensive zone.
The Avalanche would make things interesting to start the second, however, putting together a far better performance off the hop to help dig into their shot deficit and test Andrei Vasilevskiy in multiple different ways.
After a spirited forecheck led to a Victor Hedman interference penalty, the Avalance finally broke through, finishing up a stretch of terrific puck movement from the power play as they whipped a puck into the slot that ricocheted off of Nathan MacKinnon's foot to tie the game and give the Avs star his first of the series.
Goaltending would serve as the biggest factor once again, though, as Hedman raced down the ice along boards and proceeded to fire an innocent-looking backhand off the rush that somehow floated past Darcy Kuemper's out-stretched pad to put the Lightning back on top.
But the Avalanche would strike back in typical fashion, with the team's dogged forecheck hemming the Lightning in their own zone and setting the stage for Nico Sturm to sneak into the crease and fire a puck at the net that Andrew Cogliano would tip home to even the score at two goals apiece, a score that would last all the way until overtime.
Then, the hero of the night emerged.
After missing the entire series up until Game 4 due to a hand injury that required surgery just two weeks ago, Nazem Kadri rose to the occasion at the best possible time, taking an Artturi Lehkonen pass in full stride before carving through two Tampa defenders and potting a perfectly placed forehand shot over the shoulder of Vasilevskiy to win the game.
You couldn't have written it better if you tried.
And with a commanding series lead, the Avalanche now head back to Denver with the chance to win hockey's ultimate prize in front of their home crowd.