TAMPA - The Colorado Avalanche are Stanley Cup champions.
To cap off a historic run that featured two series sweeps, just four total losses, and zero consecutive defeats, the Avalanche beat the Tampa Bay Lightning in Game 6 on the road to bring the Cup back to Colorado for the first time since 2001.
What an incredible accomplishment.
Funnily enough, it was actually the Lightning that got the scoring started early, as a tenacious forecheck hemmed the Avalanche in their own zone and created space for Steve Stamkos to sneak into the crease and slip a loose puck between the legs of an unprepared Darcy Kuemper.
It was a period to forget for the Avalanche to kick things off, as the eventual champions spent most of the first chasing pucks in their own zone and failing to set up shop past the opposing blueline. To make matters worse, the Lightning clogged the slot in front of Andrei Vasilevskiy and made it nearly impossible for any Avalanche shot to make it through a sea of bodies, either.
The second period, however, told a different story.
Wiping the slate clean, the Avalanche came out of the intermission flying, pushing the play in the Lightning end and cutting into the shot-total deficit that looked pretty daunting after the first.
All that hard work paid off less than four minutes into the frame, as some slick puck movement would lead to a wide-open Nathan MacKinnon who wired it home to tie the game and snap a cold spell in the series. The Avalanche would then take their first lead of the series since the first period of Game 3 -- albeit not without its fair share of controversy, either. After a mid-ice collision that looked like a penalty against the Avalanche sprung an odd-man rush, MacKinnon would streak down the center of the ice and find driving Artturi Lehkonen who slapped a well-placed shot over the shoulder of Vasilevskiy to make it 2-1.
After gaining the lead, the Avalanch did what all good teams do: Shut the door. And, boy, did they ever put on a clinic. With the Lightning clawing desperately for a goal to save their season, the Avs held them without a shot through the first 10 minutes of the third period, keeping the puck in Tampa's end and preventing them from so much as crossing center ice.
It was the type of close-out performance that proved the Avalanche worthy of their status as champions. And with that, a new powerhouse has arisen in the NHL, while a potential dynasty will have to wait another year for their next shot at a Stanley Cup.