Who should the Avalanche start in net for Game 4 of the Stanley Cup Final: Darcy Kuemper or Pavel Francouz?

The Avalanche were humbled a bit in Game 3, falling to the Lightning 6-2 on Monday night as the team saw their Stanley Cup Final lead get cut in half. 

Goaltender Darcy Kuemper struggled in the contest, allowing five goals on 22 shots before he was pulled in the second period in favor of backup Pavel Francouz. 

“He didn’t have a good night,” Avalanche coach Jared Bednar said after the loss. “But neither did our team. We win as a team and lose as a team.”

As a result of his poor performance in Game 3, Bednar did not say definitively that Kuemper would get the start in Game 4. He said that a decision on the starter for Wednesday’s contest would come later. 

It was the first time Kuemper was truly tested in the series against the Lightning. Previously, he faced just 16 shots in the Game 2 shutout and allowed three goals on 23 shots in Game 1. 

In Game 3, he allowed a weak goal to open the scoring for the Lightning when Anthony Cirelli mishandled the puck off the rush and it slipped by his legs.

On the fifth goal, he failed to stay on his post as Pat Maroon came charging in from the side and beat him with a backhand up high over the shoulder, resulting in Kuemper’s night coming to an early end. 

Now, the team did not do him any favors. On the second, third and fourth goals, the Avalanche defense left a Lightning player wide open in front for the tally. However, Kuemper didn’t make any big-time saves either. 

At the very least, Bednar’s comments open the door to a very interesting conversation. It certainly is not often that a team playing in the Stanley Cup Final has a goalie controversy. But between Kuemper’s bad outing on Monday and Francouz’s success during the conference finals when Kuemper was out, there’s validation for the question to be asked

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Who should be the Avalanche’s starting goalie in Game 4?

Kuemper has been the starter all year long and when healthy, he’s been the go-to guy in net during the 2022 Stanley Cup playoffs. 

But he’s not exactly passing the tests with flying colors. In 13 games this season, he’s 8-3, but has allowed 32 goals on 295 shots. He owns a 2.76 goals against average and a lowly .892 save percentage. The ugliest stats of them all is his goals saved above expected, which sat at -3.5 before Monday night’s stinker. Only the Predators’ David Rittich and Blues’ Ville Husso own a lower mark in that category during the playoffs. 

On the other side is Francouz, who stepped up and played solid the two separate stretches he’s been called upon this postseason. After Kuemper was injured in Game 3 against Nashville in the first round, he came in and allowed just two goals on 20 shots in relief, securing the win. He earned the victory as well in the series-clinching Game 4, stopping 28 of the 31 shots he saw. 

Francouz didn’t see any action in the second round with Kuemper fully healthy, but after Kuemper pulled himself in Game 1 of the conference final, Francouz again answered the call against the Oilers. He grabbed the win in relief, posted a 24-save shutout in Game 2 and earned victories in Games 3 and 4 to help punch the Avs’ ticket to the finals. 

Looking at the stats, the 32-year-old Czech goalie owns a 2.81 goals against average and a .906 save percentage in these playoffs. His goals saved above expected comes in at .02. 

Neither goalie has been dominant in the crease for Colorado, which makes Bednar’s decision for Game 4 all the more tricky. He can continue with Kuemper and write Game 3 off as a blip on the radar, or hope that Francouz can find the magic from the conference finals, despite the fact that he hasn’t started a game in nearly two weeks. 

This is no small matter, but one that needs to be decided as early as possible in this series. The Avalanche are in front now, they don’t want to press the wrong button at goalie and put themselves behind because of it. 

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