And then there were two. The Stanley Cup Final looks to be one for the ages. The Colorado Avalanche vs Tampa Bay Lightning. The Avs will attempt to dethrone the two-time defending champions. The Bolts look to stake their claim as the NHL’s next dynasty. It almost feels as if this matchup was destined to happen. The young, hungry team yearning for a title against the veteran team that’s been the king of the hill. For both, it’ll be the ultimate test of their mettle. Colorado faces their most formidable playoff opponent by far. Tampa faces a team that has the talent capable of knocking them off the throne. Two greats enter the arena, and only one will leave a champion.
Colorado Avalanche vs Tampa Bay Lightning
— Forbes SportsMoney (@ForbesSports) June 13, 2022
Vasilevskiy vs the Avs Offensive Machine
Andrei Vasilevskiy has been the best goaltender in these playoffs by far. He’s been able to answer the bell every time. His .928 save percentage speaks for itself. In elimination games, he is near perfect in net. He seems to find that next level when it matters most. His next challenge, however, will be his toughest yet. The Avalanche have an offence capable of scoring at any time. They generate so many dangerous chances and keep the pressure on. The Avs have outshot their opponents 560-414 in these playoffs. They average 40 shots while only giving up 29.6. The Avs are fantastic at controlling the pace of play. They’ve outscored their opposition 65-40 in the playoffs. They’re averaging 4.6 goals per game. Colorado is able to keep pace and outscore anyone they face.
For both sides, this will be the ultimate challenge. Vasilevskiy will need to maintain form for the Lightning to succeed. If he falters, the series could get away from Tampa. The Avs will need to keep the pressure on Vasilevskiy as much as possible. Once he settles into a rhythm, there’s little to no chance of beating him. Colorado will be facing their toughest goalie to date. Both teams need to bring their ‘A’ game to win the Cup. Unstoppable force vs immovable object. Let’s see who’s stronger.
Cale Makar is Colorado’s X Factor
The talent in Colorado’s forward core has never been doubted. Nathan MacKinnon, Gabriel Landeskog, Mikko Rantanen, Nazem Kadri, Andre Burakovsky, and Valeri Nichushkin highlight their scoring prowess. But the x-factor to their success has been Cale Makar. The superstar defenceman elevated his game in the postseason, in both ends of the ice. He can not only score efficiently, but he’s capable of shutting down anyone he’s against. He put on a defensive clinic against Connor McDavid in the Western Conference Final. The Avalanche will need that in the Cup Final.
Tampa Bay has no shortage of talent on offence. While not as explosive as Colorado, they’re deadly and clutch. They score at just the right time and capitalize on mistakes. Colorado’s defence will need to be as close to perfect as possible. If Makar can play how he did against McDavid and Draisaitl, the Avs will be in a position to claim a Stanley Cup.
Tampa’s Offence Needs to Create a Storm
One key factor to victory in this Cup Final will be offensive consistency. Capitalizing on the power play and creating high-danger chances will be crucial. Tampa Bay plays a stellar defensive game. They create turnovers and force their opponents to take shots that are easy to stop. To boot, they have the most effective penalty kill in the NHL. Their kill percentage is at a spectacular 82.5%. But Tampa will need more production from their offence to ensure victory. Against a high-flying team like the Avs, the Bolts will need to strike quickly and early. They’re good at holding leads. But they’ll need to get the first one to properly execute their style.
Nikita Kucherov and Steven Stamkos have been the heart and soul of the Lightning for years. They’ve been, by far, their best forwards. The Bolts will need Kucherov to have his best series to date. Stamkos’ scoring will be crucial for the Lightning in this Cup Final. One huge boost could be the return of Brayden Point. One of their most electrifying players may be ready for the Cup Final. Point does wonders on the power play, which could be Tampa’s biggest weapon. The Lightning have a good offence. Now, they need it to be great.
Tampa Bay Lightning head coach Jon Cooper is leaving the door open for star centre Brayden Point to return to the lineup in Game 6 Saturday night. https://t.co/7wdyKhzWVu
— Sportsnet (@Sportsnet) June 11, 2022
Kuemper or Francouz?
Colorado’s weakness in this postseason has been their netminders. Darcy Kuemper and Pavel Francouz are very sturdy goalies. The regular season showed just as much. They’ve shown flashes in these playoffs of being able to get the job done. But the Avs need more consistency to seal the deal. It’s likely that Kuemper will be the starter for the Final. His .897 save percentage doesn’t look too inspiring. To be fair, he was dealing with an injury to his eye and clearly wasn’t 100%. Francouz did well in his stead, including notching the only shutout in the playoffs.
The Lightning clearly have the advantage in net. Vasilevskiy is not only the best goalie in these playoffs but in the world. For the Avalanche, it’ll be a roll of the dice. Kuemper is capable of getting the job done. His talent is able to complete the Avs’ puzzle. Now is not the time to fret or double-clutch. Winning the Cup requires a leap of faith. Darcy Kuemper is worth the risk. If he can find his game, Colorado can seal the deal. Time for the ‘Kuemperor’ to claim his title.
Jon Cooper vs Jared Bednar
Games can be won in the planning room and behind the bench. Hockey is a game of ebbs and flows. Every team will have a hot streak and a cold spell. What will make the difference is how coaches adjust to their opposition. Jon Cooper has been the best coach in the league over the last few years. After their embarrassment in 2019 against Columbus, Cooper has shown the ability to learn and adjust on the fly. Any time the Bolts encounter a roadblock, he’s able to guide them around it. He changes his lineup where and when it’s needed. The Lightning owe much of their glories to him. His coaching has been the steady hand the Bolts need.
On the other bench, Jared Bednar has taken massive strides since his first season. He has the buy-in of his locker room and the trust of his players. The Avalanche have maximized every asset in Bednar’s system, and they’re reaping the rewards. Bednar has found the will to win, no matter the circumstance. Injuries, large deficits, swaying momentum, it’s all been thrown his way. He’s guided the Avs through some rough times. He’s shown the ability to adjust to the team’s strengths and flaws. To finish the job, he will need to coach his best series to date. Coaching is a game of chess. Every move is made with care and precision. Jon Cooper has been the best strategist there is. Jared Bednar looks to show the results of his journey. Time for a game of chess.
Cup Final Prediction and Conclusion
This series seems eerily similar to the 2009 Stanley Cup Final. The young and rejuvenated Pittsburgh Penguins against the empire of the Detroit Red Wings. A champion with veteran experience against an underdog led by a rising star. Sidney Crosby and the Penguins finally dethroned the Wings in a tight series. Will history repeat itself? Will Nathan MacKinnon do what Crosby did? Or will Vasilevskiy and the Bolts start the next hockey dynasty?
Prediction: The Colorado Avalanche finally gets it done. Avs win in 7 games.
Game 1 is scheduled for Wednesday 6/15 at 8 pm EST/5 pm PT