TAMPA BAY - The Tampa Bay Lightning reminded the hockey world that they are the back-to-back Stanley Cup champions on Monday night.
After getting humbled to a shocking degree on hockey's biggest stage over the first two games of the series back in Denver, the Lightning looked a lot like their usual dominant selves on home ice, dismantling the Colorado Avalanche en route to a 6-2 win to cut their series deficit to just one game.
Everything seemed to go Tampa's way in Game 3. The Lightning stumbled briefly out of the gate, allowing what looked to be a goal by Valeri Nichushkin early in the first period before the tally was overruled thanks to an offside review.
After that stroke of luck, the Lightning soon clicked into gear, following up a Gabriel Landeskog power-play goal with two markers of their own, as Anthony Cirelli beat Darcy Kuemper with a deft move off the rush followed by Ondrej Palat banging home a puck in the slot to give Tampa a lead heading into the break.
All hell would break loose in the second period, with the Lightning absolutely pummeling the Avalanche with offensive pressure as Nick Paul, Steven Stamkos, and Patrick Maroon would score in quick succession, chasing Kuemper from the game after the netminder allowed five goals on 21 shots.
Pavel Francouz wouldn't fair too well either, as mere minutes after entering the crease in relief, Corey Perry snuck behind the Avs' backup to deposit a rolling puck into the open cage and push the Lightning's lead to 6-2 at the end of the frame.
The Avalanche wouldn't go away quietly despite the large hole they dug themselves through two periods, however, throwing a flurry of pucks at the Lightning net and keeping the play largely in the offensive zone.
But Colorado's firepower was no match for Andrei Vasilevskiy, who continued his stellar resurgence after a Game 2 to forget by shutting the door and backstopping the Lightning to victory.
It wasn't necessarily the worst performance from the Avalanche in Game 3, as they would actually out-shoot the Lightning by a 39-32 margin and show glimpses of their usual brilliance despite the lopsided score. But Tampa capitalized on nearly every single chance they were given, taking advantage of a shaky outing by Kuemper to ensure the series extends to at least five games.
The Avalanche had seemed to take a stranglehold on the series after their two back-breaking performances in Denver. The Lightning loosened that grip by a noticeable degree on Monday night. And if they can keep up their Game 3 showing moving forward, things could wind up being a lot closer than they initially appeared to be.