DENVER • What, the Avs worry?

Not this Stanley Cup-ready outfit. Not the one assembled by Joe Sakic.

One thing that will never stop being amazing is how quickly Sakic turned the “embarrassment” of the NHL’s worst team into the future of the NHL. On the night the Avs lit up lower downtown with its first Stanley Cup Final in 21 years, Super Joe’s masterful blueprint came through again.

Speed thrills.

Andre Burakovsky’s goal finished off a 4-3 win over the Tampa Bay Lightning only 1:23 into overtime of Game 1 Wednesday. One final, mad rush closed an awesome opener to a series that sure has the makings of one that will go the full distance of seven games. And the two attributes of Sakic’s rebuild were on display on the game-winning score: speed and depth.

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Winning goal, Avalanche
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Star players Nathan MacKinnon, Mikko Rantanen and Cale Makar had to leap over the boards to join the group hug, because they didn’t need to be on the ice for the winner. What a beauty of a sequence, too: JT Compher with the steal, Valeri Nichushkin with a sweet pass to Burakovsky, who fired a laser past the left glove of Tampa Bay goalie Andrei Vasilevskiy. Andre beat Andrei.

Game 2 is Saturday night at Ball Arena. Buckle up.

The cheapest seat I saw on Ticketmaster at puck drop was over $800. Hey, for that kind of cheese, you deserved an extra period of world-class hockey. And this was world-class hockey: an Avs team that must go through the two-time champion Lightning to start a run of its own.

The Avs built a 2-0 lead, and I’ll wager $5 Ball Arena hasn’t gotten that loud since the 2001 Stanley Cup Final. Less than 10 minutes into the series, and the opponent looked like all the others, a step slow, stunned at the Avs' speed.

It’s not. These are the champs we’re talking about. MLB hasn’t seen a three-peat since the 2000 Yankees, the NBA since the ’02 Lakers, the NHL since the ’83 Islanders. The NFL’s never seen it.

“We’re looking to dethrone the champs,” Sakic said.

If Sakic had a dime for every time he’s asked to compare these Avs with his Stanley Cup winners in 1996 and 2001, he would probably donate it to his favorite side job, raising money for the Food Bank of the Rockies. That’s just the kind of Colorado legend he is. But what I appreciate most about Sakic’s magic in rebuilding the Avalanche from a 48-point squad to a Cup finalist is how he took entertainment value into account. The GM wasn’t about to build a heavy, slogging contender.

“You want to win, but you also want to entertain,” Sakic said.

After a Game 1 played at the highest level of hockey, no one there was going to complain about plopping down $800 for a memory; at least, until the next time the gas tank’s empty.

“The right team won,” Tampa coach Jon Cooper said.

The last time Denver hosted a Stanley Cup game, Alex Tanguay was scoring two goals in a Game 7 win over the New Jersey Devils — almost 7,700 long days ago. LoDo welcomed back the best playoff round in pro sports with a sight to behold: “We want the Cup! We want the Cup!” They roared loudest at Cale Makar’s intro and second-loudest when Colorado lifer Dalton Risner pounded a Coors in his luxury suite.

But between the Denver East national champs, DU Pioneers champs and the Avalanche, this city knows great hockey. And the fact Ball Arena didn’t belt out “All the Small Things” with its usual decibel level was a show of respect for the Lightning.

Ball Arena got a little nervous in Game 1. No doubt. This has "long series" written all over it, and the Avs could not afford to drop a home game on a rare off-night by Vasilevskiy.

As the Avs gave away a 3-1 lead, it was clear they must go through Tampa’s pride as much as its gifted roster. Tampa’s won 11 straight playoff series. The Avs have 11 series wins in the past 20 years. Back-to-back Cup titles assures the Lightning aren’t fazed by two-goal deficits.

For the first time this postseason, the Avs are obligated to pick on somebody their own size and skill.

But it’s worth remembering that “All the Small Things” broke onto the scene smack in the middle of the golden era for Avs hockey. And as Blink-182 blasted Ball Arena and outside at a packed watch party, LoDo felt like the good ol’ days. Sakic was and is in the middle of both.

Back in the Stanley Cup Final, the Avs let it rip.

(Contact Gazette sports columnist Paul Klee at paul.klee@gazette.com or on Twitter at @bypaulklee.)

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