- Kristen Shilton is a national NHL reporter for ESPN.
DENVER — Darcy Kuemper will spend the night before Game 1 of the Stanley Cup Final waiting by his phone.
That’s how the Colorado Avalanche goaltender will learn — via text message from the coaching staff — whether he or backup Pavel Francouz will get the all-important first start against the Tampa Bay Lightning on Wednesday night.
That’s apparently how Colorado has communicated its goaltending schedule all season. Their system stays in place even now, on the eve of the Avalanche’s first Final appearance since 2001.
“We just usually get a text, and they’ll let us know who is starting the next night,” Kuemper told reporters during media day on Tuesday. “I’m ready to go. For me, it’s just sticking with the same routine, making sure you’re sharp in practice and treating it like a game situation, so that when the real game comes, you’re ready to go.”
It has been a while since Colorado has seen competitive action. The Avalanche have been idle since June 6, putting a full eight days between sweeping Edmonton in Game 4 of the Western Conference final and puck drop against the Lightning on Wednesday.
For Kuemper, the layoff has been even longer.
He suffered an upper-body injury in Game 1 against the Oilers on May 31. It would hold him out until Game 4, when Kuemper backed up for Francouz. That was the second time Kuemper had been hurt in the playoffs (he also missed time with an eye injury in the first round), further impacting the rhythm he’d carried over from a successful regular season (37-12-4, .921 SV%, 2.54 GAA).
Kuemper won’t discuss the details of his most recent injury but confirms he’s 100 percent healthy now. The veteran admitted it was hard watching Colorado advance past Edmonton without contributing much. He’s eager to make up for that in the Final.
“It was definitely disappointing, wanting to be out there,” Kuemper said. “But at the same time, you have to be in a position where you can help the team and be healthy enough where you can do that. It was good that I was able to get back quick and now I’m excited to move forward here.”
Colorado’s starter will have to bring his best to match what the Lightning’s Andrei Vasilevskiy can wield at the other end. Vasilevskiy has been sensational in the postseason, producing a 12-5-0 record with a .928 SV% and 2.27 GAA, and giving Tampa Bay what’s considered a unanimous edge in goaltending for the final.
Kuemper has heard that, too. He’s 6-2-0 in the playoffs, with an .897 SV% and 2.65 GAA. Francouz is 6-0-0 with a .906 SV% and 2.86 GAA. Granted, Vasilevskiy’s numbers are better. Kuemper isn’t concerned about how that reflects on the Avalanche.
“I have lots of confidence in myself,” Kuemper said. “All you can do is not really listen to [outside noise] and go out and play your game and trust your game, have confidence in it and go do what you can to help the team.”
Francouz feels equally good about where he is after winning four straight against Edmonton. Whether that translates into starting Game 1 of the Final is still unknown. Francouz says he is sure, though, that whoever gets the nod will be fully supported by his partner.
“[We] know if you go into the net that the other guy isn’t like mad or he’s not jealous or something like that,” Francouz said. “You always feel it if the other guy is cheering for you honestly. And I think that’s what we feel from each other.”
And it never hurts to hear the general manager’s approval.
“Our guys are comfortable with our goaltending. Both guys can play,” Joe Sakic said. “Darcy is 100 percent healthy now; he’s ready to go. Our team has been committed defensively all season and we’re definitely confident in both goalies. They’ve both won six games in the playoffs. Our guys are excited.”
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