Colorado Avalanche win first Stanley Cup since 2001 with Game 6 comeback; Cale Makar awarded Conn Smythe Trophy

The night before the Colorado Avalanche won their first Stanley Cup in over two decades by defeating the Tampa Bay Lightning 2-1 in Game 6 on Sunday, they called a players-only meeting.

Colorado could have clinched the Cup on home ice in Game 5. Instead, Tampa Bay extended the series with a 3-2 win. The Avalanche's leadership group had been through too much heartbreak before, making three consecutive second-round series exits prior to this season. No way would they let another opportunity slip.

"We knew the job that we had to do," said Cale Makar, who was awarded the Conn Smythe Trophy as the postseason's most valuable player. "But we needed to just talk about staying mentally locked in and not looking too far ahead.

It was [Andrew Cogliano] and [Gabriel Landeskog] and [Nathan MacKinnon] speaking and basically just calming the guys down and making sure that regardless of the outcome, just put it all out there and see where the game lies, and that's kind of where our minds were at.

"I felt like throughout this whole game, our mentality was just win that period and win the next one, get the next shift and so on, and we were never looking too far ahead to the to the outcome -- and we definitely feel like we earned that one."

Makar finished the postseason third overall in scoring with eight goals and 29 points in 20 games. The 23-yearhy last week, making him the thir-old also won the Norris Tropd defenseman to win both the Norris and Conn Smythe in the same season. Makar was the first unanimous Conn Smythe winner since the Professional Hockey Writers Association began tracking tabulations five years ago.

It wasn't the individual accomplishments Makar was most proud of, however. It was the whole team effort. He said before the Cup Final began that while the two-time Cup champion Lightning were trying to build a dynasty, Colorado was attempting to forge a legacy.

That journey began in earnest for the Avalanche with the franchise's first Cup victory since 2001. In what was a tightly contested Game 6 until the end, Makar worked not to let his emotions take over.

"I was trying not to look at the clock too much, was just trying to stay in the moment," Makar said. "When we had them at the line a couple times, I saw the puck go down and I was like, 'I don't want this thing to come out at the corner,' so I had to do everything I could to keep it there. Pure joy being able to throw the gloves off and being able to experience that again. It's so amazing to be able to experience it with such a great group of guys, so it's awesome."

Avalanche coach Jared Bednar had a gut instinct about Sunday's game. He was not part of the meeting that took place but "got the gist" of what was said. That the players took it upon themselves to gather after the Game 5 loss told Bednar everything he needed to know about where his team stood.

"I had a pretty good feeling about tonight because they called that meeting and those guys said what they said," Bednar said. "I was really impressed that our guys [did that] to try to get over [Game 5] mentally and discuss what was going on at home and turn the page and get ready. After that meeting, you could just kind of feel a sense of relief, some of the nervous tension that we had at home [was gone] and the focus was back."