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That’s the difference between the goalies

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Meanwhile, Darcy Kuemper was doing stuff like this:

Maroon buries the 5th and ends Kuempers night!

Cirelli goes 5-hole to tie it!

Flip the goalies, and the Avs probably win last night. In statistical terms, at all strengths the Lightning created 3.03 expected goals in the first two periods last night. They scored six goals. The Avs created 2.26 and were held to two. Vasilevskiy didn’t have to perform miracles, just kept the Avs to what they earned. But it was far better than what was going on at the other end.

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This has been the story for Kuemper all playoffs, who has put up a -5.8 goals above (or below in this case) expected throughout the playoffs in 13 appearances. It hasn’t mattered much to the Avs, who have just trucked whoever has been in front of them until Game 3 against the Bolts, basically. But that’s how good they have to be to outrun Kuemper’s performance.

Analytically, there is something of a question of what the Avs should do in net. In seven appearances during Kuemper’s injury absence, Pavel Francouz has been exactly even in terms of goals given up over expected. Sure, he hasn’t seen anything quite like the firepower that the Lightning can offer (more on this in a sec), but he also won four games against Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl. However, as various towel-snappers will tell you, the games aren’t played on the statsheets. Avs coach Jared Bednar won’t want to start a whole firestorm by making a switch. Because if it doesn’t work, then what do you do? And yet he’s only got one or two more Kuemper pants-shittings to spare while Vasilevskiy gets more and more attuned to his Avs.

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What might save Bednar and the Avs, if they need saving at all, is that the Lightning might not have anyone left to fill out the roster. Brayden Point’s brave but ultimately handicapped attempt to return in Games 1 and 2 was ended in Game 3 as he was scratched. It was clear he just wasn’t himself in Denver. Nick Paul and Nikita Kucherov both left Game 3 with injuries (though Paul kept returning and leaving like the Undertaker gimmick gone wrong, but was clearly limping). The Avs have their own injury problems, with Nazem Kadri looking less likely to return and being unable to shoot the puck if he does, Samuel Girard already out, Andre Burakovsky’s status up in the air. This is getting to be attrition as much as it is matchups and strategy to find open ice.

Whenever this series is decided, and whoever wins though, the most likely balance point will be just how much the Avs can shrink the distance between the goalies. Vasilevskiy is unlikely to have another Game 2 where the walls cave in. Can the Avs merely get goaltending that keeps things on a level between what should be and what is on the scoreboard? That’s all it should take, but Kuemper hasn’t proven he can do that. 

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