How Lightning and Avalanche fare in the Stanley Cup Final
The two-time defending champions against newcomers who are finally looking to gain the upper hand.
It’s a thrilling matchup that will feature a plethora of juicy storylines when the Tampa Bay Lightning and Colorado Avalanche square off in the 2022 Stanley Cup Finals, which kicks off Wednesday at the Ball Arena (8 p.m. HE, Sportsnet and Sportsnet NOW).
The Avalanche patiently waited to see who their opponent would be and they got the answer to that question on Saturday as the Lightning took down the New York Rangers in Game 6 of the Eastern Conference Finals.
For the third time in as many rounds, Lightning goaltender Andrei Vasilevskiy allowed just one goal in a playoff game, and Steven Stamkos scored the series-clinching goal just 21 seconds after Frank Vatrano scored a scorer on the power play (with the Tampa Bay captain serving a minor penalty for holding) to tie the game in the third period.
It feels like these two teams have been on a collision course since the start of these playoffs, with the Lightning running the gamut of emotions, ups and downs from ousting the Toronto Maple Leafs in the first round to second turn. sweep of the Florida Panthers.
It set the stage for a fascinating series with the Rangers, who took a 2-0 series lead by winning the first two games at home before the Lightning rallied to win the next four games, including several of spectacular way.
In the Western Conference, the Avalanche looked like a well-oiled machine, sweeping the Nashville Predators in the first round and knocking out the St. Louis Blues in six games.
Another sweep came in the third round when the Avalanche played with incredible pace and bounced the Edmonton Oilers to advance to the Stanley Cup Finals for the first time in more than two decades (2001 ).
Can the Lightning hang on to the title belt and get a hat-trick or are the Avalanche ready for another glorious moment on what has already been a wild ride for a franchise overcoming heartbreak recent in the form of three consecutive exits in the second round?
“It’s a step in the right direction. And it was good to go past another round,” Avalanche captain Gabriel Landeskog said after Game 4 against the Oilers. “We know the job is not done.”
The Lightning also know the job isn’t done, as they’ve come to the top in each of the past two seasons and know what it takes to reach the ultimate goal.
With that in mind, here’s a closer look at some of the matchups that could help determine the winner of what should be an epic battle for puck supremacy:
Nathan MacKinnon vs. Anthony Cirelli
The Avalanche’s top center has been a man on a mission and it doesn’t matter whether he’s up against a Selke winner (Ryan O’Reilly) or being asked to try and slow down the best player on the planet (Connor McDavid ), he has been ready for the mission so far. MacKinnon was praised by Avalanche head coach Jared Bednar for his willingness to sacrifice some offense to dig into the details of his one-on-one fight.
Cirelli did a stellar job at even strength against Mika Zibanejad in the Eastern Conference Finals and you can bet Lightning head coach Jon Cooper is going to try to get Cirelli on the ice with MacKinnon every time. as possible.
Victor Hedman vs. Cale Makar
A former Norris Trophy winner (2017-18) at Hedman and a future Norris Trophy winner at Makar and the value to their respective teams is out of this world. Hedman is the team’s fourth-highest scorer (two goals, 14 points in 17 games), averages more than 25 minutes of ice time per game, and is used in all situations.
Makar was outstanding, delivering superb play in all three areas. Scoring nine points in the Oilers’ four-game sweep (including a five-point night in the clincher), Makar is up to five goals and 22 points in 14 games, leaving him as a strong contender for the Conn Smythe Trophy.
Gabe Landeskog vs. Steven Stamkos
The captains both play fundamentally solid hockey, providing excellent leadership while contributing on offense. Landeskog is second on the Avalanche in playoff goals (eight) and tied for third in points (17) in 14 games, while Stamkos leads the Lightning in goals (nine) and is third in the team for points (15). Both players were also physically engaged and set the emotional tone for their teams.
Ondrej Palat vs Artturi Lehkonen
It’s the battle of the wingers who are generally underestimated by the general public but not by those who know them well or skate alongside them. Palat is a pending unrestricted free agent with no shortage of suitors and his well-established value is on the rise after scoring game-winning goals in Games 4 and 5 against Rangers.
Speaking of flying somewhat under the radar, Lehkonen provided the decisive series against the Oilers in overtime. One of many low-maintenance acquisitions by Avalanche general manager Joe Sakic before the NHL trade deadline, Lehkonen is someone Bednar can rely on no matter the situation. : protect a lead, look for the equalizer, kill penalties or jump on the best power play unit.
Both players contribute to all facets of the game and they do it well.
Mikko Rantanen vs. Nikita Kucherov
The story of the Stanley Cup Finals is very different from that of Rantanen entering the series with the Oilers. Although Rantanen produced offense in the first two rounds (11 points in 10 games), he was limited to one goal in an empty net, but he scored in four consecutive games (only one of them a empty net) and seems to have found the touch that allowed him to lead the Avalanche in goals (36) and points (92) during the regular season.
Meanwhile, Kucherov put his remarkable vision and passing ability to good use, putting his teammates in crucial moments (16 assists in total) while scoring seven goals, showing the skills that allowed him to be a driving force behind key game.
Brayden Point v Nazem Kadri
Two incredibly valuable players face significant injuries, but both could be involved in this streak before it’s over. Point missed a 10th consecutive game on Saturday with a lower-body injury, although Cooper told reporters after Game 6 that the door remains open: “I don’t know the probability of Game 1, but it’s extremely likely that he will star in the series.”
Earlier this week, Kadri underwent surgery on his injured right thumb, and Bednar told reporters in Denver that he was already back in the gym and should be back on the ice in the next few days. .
Injury information is usually hard to come by, especially at this time of year, but both coaches would love to have these players available to them, even if they’re not 100 per cent. Point and Kadri are high impact players when available and the streak will be even better if both players are involved, health permitting.
Andrei Vasilevski vs. Darcy Kuemper
This is one area where the Lightning seem to have a decisive lag, at least on paper. Vasilevskiy had some unusual misses during the playoffs, but he’s been exceptional lately and looks like the goalie who carried the mail and was nearly unbeatable both after losses and in playoff games. Only Rangers’ Igor Shesterkin saved more goals than expected (according to Money Puck) during the playoffs, and he has a save percentage of up to .928 and a goals-against average of 2.28.
Kuemper hasn’t played since leaving Game 1 of the Western Conference Finals in the second period with an undisclosed upper body injury, but served as a substitute in Game 4 and told reporters in Denver last week that he was fully healthy and ready to go, although he declined to elaborate on the nature of the injury. Pavel Francouz has done a good job in relief, but the Avalanche are going to need Kuemper to get back to regular-season form (.921 save percentage, 2.58 GAA) in order to try to topple the two-time defending champions .