Colorado Avalanche faces goal-shooting questions in Stanley Cup Finals

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Tampa – The Colorado Avalanche did not enter the Stanley Cup Finals expecting to dominate the goalkeeping game. Colorado knew it was up against one of the world’s best internet makers in Andrei Vasilevskiy of Tampa Bay Lightning.

So Avalanche only needed a solid target to score in its first title since 2001, hoping to allow skilled skaters to do most of the work. But when goalkeeper Darcy Comber was pulled out in the second period of Game Three on Monday night after allowing five goals to go, questions about the Colorado’s longevity in the series began to creep in.

With the series lead trimmed to 2-1, Avalanche has goalkeeper problems to tackle Game 4 on Wednesday night at the Amalie Arena. On Tuesday, coach Jared Bednar declined to name his Game 4. He said after the third game that the avalanche would set everything up in the net.

Comber allowed five goals in 22 shots before he was replaced by Pavel Francos, who scored 10 saves in 11 shots. Kuemper made a few good saves early on but couldn’t stop when it mattered most.

“[Kuemper] It wasn’t a good night. Bednar said after Colorado lost 6-2. “We win as a team and we lose as a team. I’m going to put it together with everyone else. It just wasn’t as good as we needed to.”

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Kuemper was the Colorado starting player for most of the season, but Francos was solid as a backup, scoring 0.916 saves and an average of 2.55 goals. And when Kuemper suffered an upper-body injury in Game 1 of the Western Conference Finals, Francoz held on tight, helping the avalanche win in a sweep.

However, despite Francos’ efforts, Bednar returned to Kuemper as a starter for Game 1 of the Finals. Kuemper made his first two games, including 16 lockout saves during Colorado’s dominant 7-0 win in Game 2.

Bednar praised Kuemper’s efforts after the first match, and his teammates said they were not worried.

“Absolutely confident [he can bounce back]Defender Josh Manson said. “He is in the National Hockey League for a reason. He will bounce back.”

Center Nathan McKinnon added, “It’s the Stanley Cup Final. We’re not expecting a sweep. . . . . we knew they were very proud to leave. We still felt good. We feel good about our team, from top to bottom.”

Vasilevskiy was brilliant in Game 3, getting his form back after allowing all seven of Colorado’s goals to be scored in Game Two. Vasilevskiy made 37 saves in match 3. Coach John Cooper said the goalkeeper’s composure can be attributed to his experience and mental development.

“Anytime he scores a goal, everyone looks at him, and…I think his talent that made him great is the ability to turn the page,” Cooper said.

The Russian star, like many Lightning players, has been through ordeals. Facing a 2-0 deficit in the series – and being on the wrong side of the blast – was not a foreign concept. Striker Nicholas Poole said that Vasilevsky’s determination and focus are what impresses him most. So when he had a tough 2 game, the team wasn’t worried.

“He definitely gives us confidence again,” said defender Zach Bogosian. “He’s a special player who doesn’t come around often. So obviously we’re very fortunate to have him, and he’s been the backbone of this organization throughout his time here. It’s great to see him.”

Notes: Cuper said striker Nikita Kucherov is expected to play in the fourth game. He left late in the third game after receiving tough scrutiny from Colorado defender Devon Toyos. But Cooper said center Bryden Point, who missed Game Three, is “highly doubtful” for Wednesday’s play. Point suffered a lower body injury in Match 7 of the first round and did not play again until Game 1 and 2 of the Finals. . . .

Bednar said Colorado striker Andrei Burakowski, who was injured in the second half of Game 2, had not yet joined the team in Tampa until Tuesday afternoon. He was still receiving treatment in Denver. Bednar said the Nazim Qadri center is making progress after surgery on his thumb, and is optimistic that Qadri will be an option at some point in the finals.

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