Darcy Kuemper needed to bounce back after an uninspiring Game 3 on Monday. And his performance at Amalie Arena on Wednesday was exactly what the Avalanche needed.
“That’s the Kuemps we know, no doubt,” captain Gabriel Landeskog said. “Going into this game, we knew he was going to be great.”
Kuemper surrendered a goal just 36 seconds into Game 4. It was the first shift of the game and a relentless attack by the Tampa Bay Lightning that seemed to carry over from two nights prior. The Avalanche’s sometimes inconsistent starter made the initial save, which knocked his helmet off, but the rebound was shoveled in by Anthony Cirelli.
Already tasked with bouncing back from a tough game, Kuemper was now tasked with also recovering from a terrible start. He made 16 saves the rest of the way as his team was outshot 17-4 through 20 minutes.
Most importantly, he didn’t surrender the second goal. Even while his teammates struggled to generate offensive threats.
“I thought he stuck in there all night. He made some big saves early in the game that kept it 1-0 for us and he played well,” head coach Jared Bednar said. “We need him to play well and we need him to be a difference-maker.”
His night ended in record-breaking fashion.
On Nazem Kadri’s overtime game-winning goal in overtime, Kuemper earned the secondary assist. As the puck came down to his end and the Lightning were in the midst of a line change, Kuemper had the wherewithal to advance the puck up ice quickly, catch the Lightning off-guard and generate the breakout that set Kadri up for glory.
“Great heads-up play, right?” Bednar said of Kuemper, who became the first goalie in Stanley Cup Final history to record an assist on an overtime goal. “Trying to play fast, Lehkonen does the early work to get open, opens up on the weak side of the ice, Kuemper hits him with it. Kuemper to Lehky, Lehky to Naz, trying to move the puck up the ice as quickly as you can to create something.”
In Kuemper’s short time in Colorado, he’s quickly become one of the more polarizing players. From being blamed for the 6-2 loss in Game 3 to the devastating beginning of Game 4, Kuemper had every reason to crumble and lose confidence in himself. The belief from his teammates and his past ability to bounce back allowed him to have a short memory and continue fighting off pucks.
Not only were his pivotal saves a major catalyst in Colorado taking a commanding 3-1 series lead, but his heads-up play also allowed him to create some offense and have a hand in the game-winner
Darcy Kuemper had a huge night. One he’ll likely never forget as the night he, almost single-handedly, got his team a game away from being Stanley Cup champions.
“We expect the same next game,” Landeskog said.