By MARK DIDTLER
TAMPA, Fla. (AP) — Colorado not only failed to take a stranglehold in the Stanley Cup Final after a 6-2 loss to Tampa Bay in Game 3 Monday night, but also wound up with goaltending questions.
Darcy Kuemper, after rarely being tested in a 7-0 win in Game 2 Saturday night that put the Avalanche up 2-0 in the series, was pulled midway through the second after giving up five goals on 22 shots
“I don’t think he had a good night … neither did our team,” Avalanche coach Jared Bednar said.
Kuemper left Game 1 of the Western Conference Final against Edmonton with an upper-body injury and was replaced by Pavel Francouz, who was in net for a four-game sweep over the Oilers.
There were discussions about who would start the Tampa Bay series but a now healthy Kuemper got the call and things were going well for Colorado until the Lightning returned home for Game 3 and turned the tables on the Avalanche. After being the team thriving on pressuring the Lightning into mistakes and holding them to 16 shots in Game 2, Monday night found the Avalanche on their heels with a number of bad defensive turnovers that saw Kuemper unable to make the big save on ensuing Tampa Bay shots.
“I think it was on us, for sure,” Colorado right wing Mikko Rantanen said of the skaters in front of Kuemper. “Grade-A’s (scoring chances) in the slot. We know Darcy is a great goalie and he’s going to bounce back.”
The end for Kuemper came when Tampa Bay tough guy Pat Maroon made it 5-2 with an in-close backhander 11:15 into the second. The goal came after Colorado defenseman Josh Manson made an errant pass from behind the net.
Colorado center Nathan MacKinnon replied “just shake it off” when asked what his message to Kuemper would be.
“He’s been great all year,” MacKinnon added. “Every mistake we made they capitalized on.”
Francouz, 6-0 this postseason, gave up one goal on 10 shots in mop-up duty.
Despite Kuemper posting an 8-3 mark in the playoffs this year, there was immediate speculations about which goalie would start Game 4 on Wednesday night.
Almost forgotten is the fact Colorado leads the series 2-1.
“It’s fun, this is awesome,” MacKinnon said. “Good or bad, we’re not going to trade our spot with anybody in the world.”
NOTES: MacKinnon has not scored a goal in the series. He had six shots on goal and 13 overall shot attempts Monday, … The Avalanche ended up outshooting Tampa Bay 39-32. They also had 27 shots blocked and missed the net on 13 more.
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