June 26 (UPI) -- The Colorado Avalanche came from behind Sunday night to win the Stanley Cup, their first in two decades, dethroning the reigning two-time champions, the Tampa Bay Lightning, 2-1 in Game 6 of the Cup Final.
The Avalanche were led by center Nathan MacKinnon who netted a goal and an assist with goal keeper Darcy Kuemper stopping 22 shots in the win. Artturi Lehkonen scored the game winner early in the second.
Colorado's Cale Makar, who won this year's Norris Trophy for best defenseman, added the playoff MVP Conn Smythe Trophy to his hardware collection after notching 29 points, including 8 goals, in the run to the Cup, which is the highest playoff point total by a defenseman since Al MacInnis netted 31 in 1989.
"It's emotional," Makar said from the ice following the victory. "All I can think about right now is everybody that helped me along the way. Everybody that has worked so hard on this team deserves it.
"I'm speechless right now."
With the win coming off an emotional loss at home days earlier, team captain Gabriel Landeskog said what motivated them was the desire "to make each other champions."
"What a way to do it in this building against the back-to-back Stanley Cup champions. I can't even describe it," he said.
It was Tampa's third straight Cup final appearance and a win would have made cemented their place in NHL history as the fifth team and the first in nearly 40 years to win three consecutive championships.
Goaltender Andrei Vasilevskiy, who was the Lightning's Conny Smythe winner last year, stopped 28 of 30 shots in the loss.
Coach Jon Cooper said after the game that their playoff winning streak maybe over but their drive for championships was still ongoing.
"It's not the end of our run," he said.
Cooper added that while he has been extremely fortunate to lead championship teams at various levels during his coaching career, it is this lightning team that he'll remember most.
"I've never seen anything like this or been more proud of a team than this group and I will also remember them, and we didn't win. It's a tribute to them," he said.
"It's crushing though."
The Lightning, who were trailing 3-2 in the series heading into Sunday night's game at Amalie Arena, were the first to crack the score sheet minutes into the first period off a fortuitous bounce to Tampa captain Steven Stamkos in front of the Avalanche net.
The play started in the neutral zone with Tampa forcing a Avalanche turnover that saw defenceman Erik Cernak chip the puck into the Colorado corner where Nikita Kucherov fought off MacKinnon.
Makar then fished a loose puck out from between their feet, which then bounced off the skate of Tampa's Ondrej Palat to an open Stamkos in front of the net who shoveled it through the legs of Kuemper.
MacKinnon would respond early in the second after the pushing Avalanche had hemmed the Lightning in their own zone with a penally against the defending team coming.
A cycling Colorado in the Tampa Bay zone saw Landeskog take the puck around the back of Vasilevskiy's net before passing it to defenseman Bowen Byram at the point who snapped a pass to an open MacKinnon near the side of the goal who one-timed it home to tie the game at one a piece.
Lehkonen scored what would be the game winner later in the second.
On a 3-2 rush through the neutral zone, defenseman Josh Manson carried the puck over the Lightning blue line before passing it to MacKinnon in the high slot. As he tried to split the Tampa Bay defense, MacKinnon lost the puck but it bounced to Lehkonen who quickly snapped it over the glove of Vasilevskiy for the win.
It's Colorado's first Cup since the 2000-01 season and follows a painful Game 6 loss a year earlier to the Las Vegas Golden Knights in the second round, which produced the now famous press conference with MacKinnon restating his motivation to bring home Lord Stanley's cup.
Following Sunday's win, he said the victory was "surreal" and "unbelievable."
"Getting engraved [on the Cup] with these 26 warriors is just a dream come true," he said.