Stanley Cup Final, Game 4: Five things to watch when Avalanche faces Lightning

TAMPA, Fla. — The Avalanche and Tampa Bay Lightning meet Wednesday night at Amalie Arena for Game 4 of the Stanley Cup Final. Colorado leads the best-of-seven series 2-1.

Here’s five things to watch for Game 4.

Toews and Makar. The Avalanche’s top defensive pairing of Devon Toews and Cale Makar have been difference-makers in all three games. They helped Colorado sweep Games 1 and 2 in Denver and struggled in Game 3’s 6-2 loss in Tampa. Toews and Makar were each minus-3 on Monday, falling to minus-3 and minus-1 in the series, respectively.

Their plus-minus rating is important because they log the most minutes for Colorado every game. Coach Jared Bednar believe his top pairing and his entire team will play better in Game 4. “I don’t like to separate individuals out of it,” Bednar said when asked about Toews and Makar. “We talked about that with Darcy (Kuemper) yesterday. Our whole team has got to bounce back and be better than we were.”

Desperation. Bednar wants to coach a desperate team on Wednesday. He wants to see the Avs play with more fire as they did in Games 1 and 2.

“Last night they had the competitive advantage,” Bednar said. “Games 1 and 2, I think we had it. So that will get ramped up a little bit for us here tomorrow and there will be some desperation in our game. We will clean up some of the mistakes we had and I think all of our guys will respond after losing last night.”

Get the split. The Avalanche aims to take a 3-1 series back to Denver for Game 5 on Friday at Ball Arena. The club remains confident after losing for the first time on the road in the postseason (7-1).

“We are still in the driver’s seat. It’s 2-1 for us. We knew coming in here that it would be tough to win both games,” Avs defenseman Erik Johnson said. “We knew that they were going to come with their best game. And listen, it could have been 2-0, 3-0 for us (in the first period). That little offside (that disallowed a goal), just a couple inches, and then J.T. Compher missed the open net, and we had the power-play goal.

“We could have come out of that period sitting pretty good. Sometimes things go the other way and credit to them, they took advantage of all their opportunities. For us to get the split, we’d be sitting pretty good.”

Excellent PP and PK work. The Avalanche has been extraordinary in special teams in this series. Colorado is 5-for-11 on the power play and has killed off 12 of 13 penalties.

Is Tampa Bay worried?

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“They have a good power play and they feed off it. It gives them energy,” Lightning coach Jon Cooper said. “But we have a good PK and eventually, I know, the bounces will start going our way at some point. But I’m not concerned. Look at their team over there. They have a helluva team. They’re going to score some goals, they’re going to get some power-play goals. But are you killing them off at the right time? We feel like we are, but as we move forward, we’re going to need that PK to kill them off because I don’t think we’re going to go penalty-free the rest of the series.”

Pepper him. Tampa Bay goalie Andrei Vasilevskiy made saves on 37 of 39 shots (.949) in Game 3’s 6-2 victory. The Avalanche needs to keep the pressure on in Game 4.

“We just got to keep peppering him,” Toews said. “We feel like if we put enough chances on him that we’ll get our opportunities to score and we feel like we’re getting into good areas to score right now. He’s a big goalie. He’s very athletic. And that’s why he’s one of the best in the world right now. And it’s a challenge every night to try to get pucks past him. We just got to hit our targets.”