It’s the final we’ve all been waiting for. The league’s most exciting team and the back-to-back champions are the last two teams standing as the Avalanche and the Lightning meet in the 2022 Stanley Cup Final.
The Avalanche entered this season as the favorites to win the Stanley Cup. Now, here they are, only four wins away from accomplishing just that.
Colorado has cruised through the playoffs for the most part. After a dominant sweep of the Predators in the first round, the Avs handled the Blues in six games to finally get that second-round win that has evaded them the past five seasons. In the conference finals, they needed just four games to dispatch the Oilers, punching their ticket to the Cup Final for the first time since 2001 on the shoulders of backup goaltender Pavel Francouz, who was filling in for an injured Darcy Kuemper.
At just 23 years old, Cale Makar is quickly putting himself into the conversation with all-time great defenseman. The Avalanche blue liner leads the team in points with 22 in 14 playoff games. Behind him is Nathan MacKinnon, who is first on the team in goals with 11 and second in points with 18. Both Gabriel Landeskog and Mikko Rantanen have 17.
In Colorado’s way is a team all too familiar with playing in the finals. The Lightning enter into the series as reigning champions from 2020 and 2021, looking to become the first team since the Islanders of the ’80s to three-peat.
Tampa Bay had a hard-fought, seven-game battle with the Maple Leafs in the first round, but came away with a series win. The Lightning skated circles around the Presidents’ Trophy-winning Panthers in the second round, sweeping the top team in the East to move onto the conference finals. There, they won four straight games after falling behind 2-0 to the Rangers to eliminate the Broadway Blueshirts.
Nikita Kucherov is once again coming alive in the playoffs. His 23 points lead the team and put him in the top-five for the postseason. Ondrej Palat is behind him with 16 points, Steven Stamkos has 15 and Victor Hedman has 14. The backbone of the team has once again stood tall in the net, as goalie Andrei Vasilevskiy enters the finals with a 2.27 goals-against average and a .928 save percentage.
Can Lightning strike once again? Or will the Avs make the preseason prediction come true?
Here’s everything you need to know about the Stanley Cup Final between the Avalanche and the Lightning.
Key storyline: What is the health status of Brayden Point and Nazem Kadri?
A couple of the biggest stars on these two teams were not playing at the end of the conference finals and their status heading into the finals is up in the air.
Brayden Point has been out since Game 7 of the first round, when he suffered a right leg injury against the Maple Leafs. While he’s been back skating with the team, he has yet to play in a game. He had four points in seven games before the injury and was the playoff leader in goals each of the last two postseasons.
The more unlikely of the two to return is Nazem Kadri, who was hurt in Game 3 of the Western Conference Final when he was hit by Evander Kane. He was ruled out of the rest of the conference finals, but not the playoffs.
However, he recently underwent surgery for his thumb. There still has yet to be an announcement saying he’s done for the postseason, but given the surgery, it does not seem likely we’ll see him against the Lightning. Kadri had been sensational in these playoffs, with six goals and eight assists in 13 games.
It leaves each team with a gap in the top-six that could potentially be exploited in the finals.
With the Lightning, we’ve seen a number of different combinations from Jon Cooper and Co without Point in the lineup. Nick Paul has moved up to the second line, Anthony Cirelli has slid back to center with Brandon Hagel going up to play wing in the top-six. Point was bouncing between center and wing anyway when he was in the lineup, so there are a multitude of options for Tampa Bay to explore with or without him.
With Kadri out in Game 4, coach Jared Bednar elected to slide Rantanen to center and play down the middle on the second line, flanked by Artturi Lehkonen and Andre Burakovsky. Whether or not he sticks with that, he’ll have to see. J.T. Compher or Alex Newhook could be options to fill in that center role on the second line and Rantanen could move back up to right wing on the first line.
Either way, the potential absence of both Point and Kadri in this series could have serious ramifications. The Lightning have been able to advance in two rounds without Point, but his absence has been obvious at times. We’ve only seen the Avs play one full game without Kadri in the lineup and while they will have had plenty of time to adjust during practice, game situations are entirely different and in the finals, you can’t afford to give up a game.
Avalanche vs. Lightning schedule, TV channels
(All times Eastern)
|Wed., June 15||Game 1||Lightning at Avalanche||8 p.m.||ABC|
|Sat., June 18||Game 2||Lightning at Avalanche||8 p.m.||ABC|
|Mon., June 20||Game 3||Avalanche at Lightning||8 p.m.||ABC|
|Wed., June 22||Game 4||Avalanche at Lightning||8 p.m.||ABC|
|Fri., June 24||Game 5*||Lightning at Avalanche||8 p.m.||ABC|
|Sun., June 26||Game 6*||Avalanche at Lightning||8 p.m.||ABC|
|Tue., June 28||Game 7*||Lightning at Avalanche||8 p.m.||ABC|
Avalanche vs. Lightning odds
Odds provided by Sports Interaction
Avalanche vs. Lightning prediction
Colorado has been far and above the most dominant team during the playoffs. Through three rounds, they only lost two games and have averaged 4.64 goals per game while giving up 2.86.
While Tampa Bay has been better defensively, allowing 2.50 goals per game, they are averaging a goal and a half less than the Avs, producing at a clip of 3.13.
With that said, there are two things that will decide this series. The first one is an old cliche — defense wins championships. There have been times where the Avs’ defense has been problematic. Like in Games 1 and 4 against the Oilers. There is no such scenario where the Avalanche can give up five to six goals a game and expect to still beat the Lightning because Tampa’s defense is a heck of a lot better than Edmonton’s and Vasilevskiy is by far the best goalie they will have seen during the playoffs.
The Lightning just have an ability that when they go up a goal or two, they know how to switch gears and shut it down in their own zone. They get it over the red line and dump it in on offense, and lock things down on defense. Tampa proved it can handle a coast-to-coast team when it held Florida’s high-flying offense to three goals in four games. They face a similar test with the Avs.
The second is health. I think the absence of Kadri is going to be monumental. There’s such a little chance they get him back and even if so, there is no way he’ll be 100%. It’s regrettable that the Avs season comes down to the result of a dirty play, but I just don’t see the Avalanche’s top-six being the same without Kadri.
Tampa Bay makes history and completes the three-peat.
Prediction: Lightning in seven.