The Colorado Avalanche made two decisions before Wednesday night’s Game 4 of the Stanley Cup Final.
They inserted Nazem Kadri into the lineup for the first time since he had thumb surgery during the Western Conference final and they went back to goaltender Darcy Kuemper after he was pulled in Game 3.
The moves paid off as Kuemper made 37 saves and started a play in overtime that Kadri finished off for a 3-2 victory. That gave the Avalanche a 3-1 series lead against the two-time defending champion Tampa Bay Lightning.
Colorado can wrap up its first championship since 2001 with a victory at Denver’s Ball Arena on Friday (8 p.m. ET, ABC).
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The Avalanche overcame two one-goal deficits with fortuitous bounces, and Kadri’s goal wasn’t announced right away after he got around Lightning defenseman Mikhail Sergachev and wristed a shot past Andrei Vasilevskiy (34 saves).
“I thought he might have had it,” he told reporters, “so it was certainly a few seconds of confusion there. Then I saw everyone started bull-rushing the ice and that’s when I knew it was confirmed.”
Kuemper gave up an Anthony Cirelli goal 36 seconds in, on a play on which he lost his mask, but he finished the first period with 16 saves as the Lightning pressed.
Colorado’s Nathan MacKinnon tied the game in the second period on the power play with a deflection off his skate for his first goal of the series and 12th of the playoffs.
Defenseman Victor Hedman put Tampa Bay ahead 2-1 in the second period before Andrew Cogliano tied the game in the third period when Niko Sturm’s shot bounced in off him.
Kadri, usually a No. 2 center, didn’t take any faceoffs in the game.
He’s in the Stanley Cup Final for the first time in his career after suspensions derailed three previous playoff efforts. But the pending unrestricted free agent avoided controversy as he scored a career-best 87 points in the regular season.
He had missed 18 days after the Edmonton Oilers’ Evander Kane sent him crashing into the boards. Kadri had been slowly working his way back.
“I’ve been waiting for this my whole life,” he told ESPN, “so I figured I’d stop waiting and try to join the party.”
‘A great job’ by Avalanche’s Kuemper
Kuemper had been pulled in Game 3 after giving up five goals. He got the Game 4 assignment after a chat with coach Jared Bednar.
“Our team believes in him. I believe in him,” Bednar said. “I wanted to make sure he believed in himself, that he’d be able to go and bounce back and do the job. He sounded confident. I thought he did a great job for us tonight.”
Two Lightning players leave game
Cirelli and defenseman Erik Cernak, who teamed up for the opening goal, both left the game in the second period.
Cernak was hit by a MacKinnon shot during a power play. With the Lightning unable to clear the puck, he had to stay on the ice and left after MacKinnon scored.
Cirelli appeared to be cut by teammate Alex Killorn’s skate and quickly left the ice surface.
Cirelli skated a regular shift in the third period and overtime, though Cernak didn’t play, leaving the Lightning with five defensemen down the stretch.