Colorado Avalanche pulls Darcy Kuemper out of Game 3 of the Stanley Cup Finals non-binding on goaltender status for Game 4 vs. Tampa Bay Lightning


Colorado Avalanche pulls Darcy Kuemper out of Game 3 of the Stanley Cup Finals non-binding on goaltender status for Game 4 vs. Tampa Bay Lightning

TAMPA, Fla. — The Colorado Avalanche faces a critical decision in the crease after starter Darcy Kuemper was pulled from a 6-2 loss to the Tampa Bay Lightning Monday night in Game 3 of the Stanley Cup Finals.

Kümper allowed five goals on 22 shots before getting the hook midway through the second period. He was replaced by Pavel Francouz, who made nine saves from 10 shots.

The Avalanche lead the best-of-seven series 2-1. Game 4 is here Wednesday, and Colorado coach Jared Bednar didn’t line up behind Kuemper to start this matchup.

“He didn’t have a good night, you know?” said Bednar when asked about his trust in Kuemper. “Neither does our team. We win as a team, lose as a team. Group him with everyone else. Just wasn’t as good as we needed to be.”

Pressed further about what will go into the Game 4 starter decision, Bednar added, “Same thing that goes into the decision.”

Colorado flew high ahead of Game 3 after executing a near-perfect plan to win Tampa Bay 7-0 in Game 2 on Saturday.

Kümper only saw 16 shots in this game, which the Avs dominated with ease. Game 3 marked the first time Colorado fell behind in a game of that series and it was the first postseason road loss.

Kuemper was handed Francouz as Colorado’s starter for the Cup finals, despite a patchy second-round run against St. Louis and after not playing for more than two weeks before the opening game against the Lightning. He sustained an upper-body injury in Game 1 of the Western Conference Finals against Edmonton, and Francouz stepped in to stop Colorado from four straight wins.

Still, Bednar returned to Kuemper for Game 1. He was Colorado’s incumbent during a strong regular season (37-12-4, 0.921 percent save, 2.54 goals against average). Francouz was a great addition during the regular season (15-5-1, 0.916 SV%, 2.55 GAA) and was statistically the better goaltender during the playoffs (6-0-0, 0.906 SV% and 2.86 GAA vs. Kuemper at 8-2-0, 0.901 SV% and 2.44 GAA).

When Kuemper starts Game 4, his teammates believe he can return to form.

“Fully convinced [he can bounce back]said Josh Manson. “He’s in the National Hockey League for a reason. He will fight back.”

As Bednar noted, the Avalanche didn’t play as usual on Monday night. Early on, Colorado was shorthanded up front, with Andre Burakovsky sidelined with an apparent hand injury sustained while blocking a shot in Game 2. Nazem Kadri also stayed out with a broken thumb.

Valeri Nichushkin appeared to score the first goal of the game in the opening period, but Tampa Bay successfully challenged an offside to hold the game 0-0. Lightning coach Jon Cooper took so long to decide whether to review the game that action almost resumed, and Bednar objected.

“It took a long time,” he said of the process. “I don’t know what else to tell you. It was probably three times as long as we normally get.”

Cooper agreed and, in his own post-game press conference, pleaded for the NHL to make the review process more efficient.

Colorado got their icebreaker from Gabriel Landeskog on a power play goal instead. It was the Avalanche’s ninth straight goal in the series and dates back to the end of Game 1.

But that was when Tampa Bay started scoring in heaps.

Anthony Cirelli and Ondrej Palat gave the Lightning a 2-1 lead after 20 minutes, the first lead Tampa Bay held in the Cup final. Nick Paul, injured late in the first half but returning for the second, capitalized on a Manson giveaway early in that frame to put it 3-1. Paul left the ice right after that and didn’t take another layer.

“Tonight’s execution under pressure wasn’t great,” Bednar said. “I think we had some games to do that we didn’t do. I think they pushed us a bit on some of the submissions. We got a little sweet with the puck where I thought in Game 1 and Game 2 we just moved it. I think that was obviously their best game of the series and it wasn’t ours.

Landeskog scored the Avs’ second goal on a subsequent power play for his first multiple goal playoff game since Game 3 of Colorado’s first-round series in Nashville.

Steven Stamkos and Pat Maroon scored four minutes apart to give Tampa Bay a three-lead and end Kuemper’s evening. Corey Perry crowned the goal with a power play marker.

It was a bad night for Colorado, but that doesn’t mean the series went wrong for them.

“It’s the Stanley Cup final. We’re not expecting a win,” said Nathan MacKinnon. “It’s fun. This is great. Good or bad, we won’t trade places with anyone. We’ve waited a long time for this. We’re playing the best right now. We’re playing the best team, they won back-to-back [Stanley Cups]. We knew they were too proud to walk away. We’re still comfortable. We feel very comfortable in our team.”

Leading up to the Lightning Game, the Avalanche repeatedly said they hoped to one day emulate their status as repeat contenders. Right now, Colorado can take a page out of the Blitz on how to bounce back from disappointment.

“We’re going in [every] Game resilient. I think that’s our mentality,” MacKinnon said. “Also in the third [period], we played really well. We wouldn’t give up. Apparently, [we didn’t score] Goals or something, but I think we learned that. Like Tampa, they kept their heads up when they lost to us in Game 2 and we’re not going to do the same tonight.”

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