Luck had nothing to do with Nathan MacKinnon getting himself enough space to park like a Rolls Royce on Andrei Vasilevskiy’s stick side, the heel to our deified Tampa Bay goalie’s Achilles.
Luck was on a coffee break when Andrew Cogliano, 177 pounds of pure guts, 5-foot-10 with 6-foot-5 spunk, refused to budge from the crease, even though the Avalanche forward had Lightning defender Jan Rutta — all 6-2, 211 pounds of him — draped all over his back.
Luck had her hands off the wheel when Avs goalie Darcy Kuemper caught Tampa Bay coach Jon Cooper in a badly-timed line change some 12:00 into overtime. And when Nazem Kadri boat raced the two Lightning defenders who were stationed between him and the goal for the game-winner a few seconds later.
“(A) great, heads-up play, right?” Colorado coach Jared Bednar told reporters when asked about the Amen at Amalie Arena, Kuemper-to-Artturi Lehkonen-to-Kadri, a bang-bang overtime sequence that brought the Avs home for Game 5 of the Stanley Cup Final with a 3-1 series lead.
“Trying to play fast, Lehkonen does the early work to get open, opens up on the weak side of the ice, Kuemper hits him with it … Kuemper to Lehky, Lehky to Naz, trying to move the puck up the ice as quickly as you can to create something.”
Luck is a loser’s crutch. It’s a whiner’s recrimination, subjugation’s gasping alibi, the last crooked finger pointed by hubris before it falls, face-first, to the canvas. The Avs scored three goals Wednesday on the sludge masquerading as Tampa’s ice. None of them were, to put it mildly, what you’d call conventional.
MacKinnon opened the scoring for the visitors on a power-play goal in the second period when a cross-ice feed from Mikko Rantanen appeared to doink off his left skate as he pirouetted into the crease, dancing on Vasilevskiy’s stick side.
What Lightning faithful won’t tell you is that Rantanen’s pass was sublime; and two, if MacKinnon hadn’t kicked the biscuit in, teammate Gabe Landeskog, who was camped out on the left post right behind No. 29, probably would’ve done the deed himself anyway.
The same could be said of the goal that tied the game at 2-all 2:53 into the third stanza, the end product of Cogliano refusing to surrender against a Lightning defender who outweighed him by 34 pounds. And the declination of Avalanche forward Nico Sturm — like Cogliano, another one of those unsung, fourth-line heroes — to give up on a rebound down low after Big Vasy couldn’t corral Darren Helm’s frozen rope.
But to call the Avs more lucky than good? For finding a way to win on the home ice of the two-time defending champs? For scrapping to the cusp of their first Cup title in a generation?
That’s the vanity talking. It’s the insolence of a king denying gravity as he slips from the throne and tumbles down the mountainside, kicking up excuses like pebbles, a cloud of dissent in descent.
Luck didn’t mow a path so these Avs could produce their ninth comeback win this postseason, the most by an NHL side since Pittsburgh in 2009. Or gift them five playoff overtime victories, tying a single-season franchise record, along the way.
Luck didn’t send Sam Girard to the hospital, blur Kuemper’s vision, ding Cogliano’s finger or smash Kadri’s thumb.
Missing Nashville’s No. 1 netminder, Juuse Saros, in the first round? Destiny. St. Louis goalie Jordan Binnington tossing water bottles and whimpers? Destiny. Edmonton in the conference finals? Destiny.
Game 4 at Amalie? Destiny.
“You’re going to see what I mean when you see (Kadri’s) winning goal,” Cooper told reporters late Wednesday before cutting his postgame news conference short. “And my heart breaks for the players because we probably still should be playing.”
Cooper hinted that the Avs had too many men on the ice.
Let Cooper chew cud ‘til the cows come home. Legends make their own luck. Champions, too. To the last.
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