The 2022 Stanley Cup Finals get underway tonight in Colorado as the two-time defending champion Tampa Bay Lightning come in to take on the NHL’s leading point team this year, the Colorado Avalanche. The Lightning got here after beating the Maple Leafs in 7-games, dropping the Panthers in a sweep and then taking 4-straight games from the Rangers after getting in an 0-2 hole. The Avs have been even more dominant in reaching the finals with a sweep over the Predators in round 1, a 6-game series win over the Blues in the conference semi-finals and then another sweep of the Edmonton Oilers in the conference finals. The Avalanche won both games over the Lightning this season, 3-2 and 4-3. The puck drops at 8pm EST.
Still the Champs
After securing the fifth seed in the Eastern Conference, the Tampa Bay Lightning once again find themselves in the Stanley Cup Finals for a 3rd consecutive season. The Lightning are 12-5 in the playoffs thus far and come into Colorado with a 5-4 road record in the playoffs thus far. The Lightning dropped their only regular season game in Colorado 3-2 back on February 10th. The Lightning offense was aggressive in that matchup, getting off 38 shots but scoring just 2 goals. More telling, however, was the Lightning’s inability to slow down Colorado from getting to the net as the Avs had 47 shots on net. TB Goalie Andrei Vasilevskiy was nearly up to the challenge in turning away 44 shots. He has a 2.27 GAA in the playoffs thus far and has a .928 save percentage, which is 4th in the NHL during the playoffs. Ondrej Palat leads the Lightning in points this postseason with 16 points and leads the team with a +9. Veteran Steven Stamkos leads the Lightning with 9 goals.
The Lightning have been here before and their poise and experience have pushed them to the brink of a 3rd straight title. While the Avs are chasing a Stanley Cup, the Lightning are chasing history. A third straight Stanley Cup will put them in rarified air and would make them the first team since the 1980-83 Islanders, who won four straight, to win at least three straight Cups. The series will likely come down to Tampa Bay’s ability to keep the #1 scoring team in the playoffs, the Avs, off the scoreboard. Tampa Bay has the 2nd best GAA in the playoffs and the 3rd best save percentage. If they can stay out of the penalty box, which they’ve struggled at times to do so in the playoffs, they have the ability to contain the Avalanche in 5-on-5 settings.
Looking to Dethrone the Champs
The NHL’s #1 team in the 2021-22 season will try and take down the NHL’s #1 team over the past two seasons as the Avalanche prepare to try and take down the Tampa Bay Lightning in the Cup finals. Colorado rolled through the regular season with a league leading 119 points and have rolled through the playoffs with 2 sweeps in their 3 series thus far and an overall playoff record of 12-2. They come into game 1 in Colorado with a 5-2 record at home in the playoffs. Cale Makar leads Colorado in points in the postseason with 22 points and has a +/- of +5 thus far in the playoffs. The team leader in goals and power play goals has been Nathan MacKinnon. MacKinnon has 11 goals, with a whopping 7 of those coming on the power play. Unlike Tampa Bay, the Avalanche have employed two goalies in the playoffs thus far in Darcy Kuemper and Pavel Francouz. Francouz has been the hot goalie as of late after spelling Kuemper due to a chest injury in game 1 of the conference finals. Both are healthy and ready to play in game 1.
As of this writing, the Avs have not named a game 1 starting goalie but both are capable and both have been effective in the playoffs. The two have combined for a .900 save percentage thus far in the playoffs and have stopped a total of 355 shots in 14 games. The Avs are tied for third in goals against in the playoffs but the team’s signature is its offense. The Avs are 1st in goals per game in the playoffs and have the 2nd best power play scoring percentage in the playoffs. The Avs will not hurt themselves as they are ranked just 11th in the playoffs in penalty minutes thus far.
The Avs were dominant in the regular season and have been dominant in the playoffs thus far with just two losses. While the edge in goalies certainly goes to the Lightning and former Vezina winner Vasilevskiy, the Avalanche have two more than capable net-minders. The big edge in this series will be on the power play. The Avalanche are among the best PP units in the NHL and have the second most PP goals thus far in the NHL playoffs despite playing just 14 games. Tampa Bay, on the other hand, is the most penalized team in the playoffs which will create too many odd man advantages for the potent Avalanche. Both teams come in rested and ready and both teams are relatively even. This small advantage in odd man ice time will spell the difference in game one.
Take the Avalanche with the money line.
Prediction: Colorado -155