TAMPA BAY — The Tampa Bay Lightning have eradicated the New York Rangers and superior to the Stanley Cup Last for the third straight season, with the Colorado Avalanche rested and prepared for Recreation 1 (Wednesday, Eight ET, ESPN).
Listed here are 5 issues we realized concerning the Lightning to this point of their 2022 postseason journey and what they imply for the ultimate showdown.
The three-peat is in attain
The NHL hasn’t had a staff three-peat as Stanley Cup champion since 1983, when the New York Islanders completed off their dynasty. Since then, six different groups gained back-to-back Stanley Cups. 5 of them didn’t advance previous the second spherical till the Lightning gained the East this season.
“You do not get these probabilities usually. They do not come round. It is like we have seen the highest of the mountain. Let’s preserve going for extra,” Lightning coach Jon Cooper mentioned.
It is a basic matchup for the Stanley Cup: The Colorado Avalanche, making an attempt to lastly break via to win their first Cup since 2001 after just a few years as a prime contender; and the Lightning, now simply 4 wins away from an unprecedented achievement within the NHL’s salary-cap period, which began in 2005.
“To get there the primary time was a dream come true. To get there a second time, the following 12 months, was a dream too. There was no method we have been going again. To go a 3rd time is unbelievable,” Cooper mentioned. “To observe their development, watch the ache … I am totally impressed by what they do to win a hockey sport. No person would fault them for saying ‘hey, we gained one or two.’ However to go for a 3rd? I am rattling impressed.”
To win a 3rd straight Cup, the Lightning must defeat what Stamkos imagine is one of the best staff within the NHL.
“Colorado? In all probability one of the best staff within the league,” Stamkos mentioned. “As you progress via the playoffs, every spherical will get more durable and every opponent will get more durable. There is a motive why there’s two groups left, and it is as a result of they’re the 2 greatest groups. We’ll have our palms full.”
(Largely) outdated faces, identical success
The Avalanche are going through a Lightning staff whose core is basically the identical because the groups that gained back-to-back Cups.
Tampa Bay is powered by stars:
Middle Steven Stamkos, the staff captain with 481 profession objectives
Winger Nikita Kucherov, a former league MVP and the playoffs’ main scorer
Middle Brayden Point, who missed practically two rounds to harm however has scored extra playoff objectives than some other participant prior to now three postseasons
Defenseman Victor Hedman, nominated for six straight seasons for the Norris Trophy because the NHL’s prime defenseman, and playoff MVP in 2020
Defenseman Ryan McDonagh, a gentle veteran
Goalie Andrei Vasilevskiy, the playoff MVP in 2021
They’re supported by a returning forged of characters that embrace winger Ondrej Palat, who scored two overtime-preventing, successful objectives in opposition to the Rangers; rugged forwards Alex Killorn and Pat Maroon, who’s making an attempt to play on his fourth straight Cup winner; ace defensive middle Anthony Cirelli, who shut down the Rangers’ prime line; and the smooth-skating protection of Mikhail Sergachev.
One of the crucial spectacular issues about this run? That the Lightning misplaced their whole checking line and a few key position gamers from the previous two Cup wins; changed them with veteran offseason pickups (Corey Perry, Pierre-Edouard Bellemare) and trade-deadline acquisitions (Brandon Hagel, Nick Paul); and have not missed a beat.
“We have been searching for a match,” GM Julien BriseBois mentioned. “We’re searching for guys which have pleasure and which have ambition. The pleasure is what is going on to drive you to maintain pushing your self when issues aren’t going effectively for you. The ambition goes to gas your continued success. You are still hungry for extra.”
Kucherov is elite
The Avalanche and Lightning each have elite skaters who can take over video games. Kucherov is chief amongst them. Kucherov has 23 factors in 17 video games, distributed moderately equally between 5-on-5 and the facility play. No NHL participant has scored extra factors than Kucherov over the previous three postseasons. Whereas his goal-scoring prowess is elite, it is his playmaking skill and puck distribution that permits him to rack up the factors.
Look no additional than the convention finals. His good contact go to Ondrej Palat arrange the game-winning aim in Recreation 3, with your complete enviornment pondering time beyond regulation. In Recreation 6, his go to Stamkos because the captain streaked to the online arrange the game-winning and series-clinching aim.
He’s a pace-setter for the Lightning. When he’s assured and rolling offensively, they take discover. “You possibly can hear the chatter on the bench when he’s coming off [the ice]. The blokes understanding that your greatest participant is ‘on’ in an enormous sport,” Stamkos mentioned.
If the Lightning win a 3rd straight Stanley Cup, it might be Kucherov’s flip to hoist the Conn Smythe Trophy as playoff MVP.
Can the Avs beat Vasilevskiy?
Colorado caught some goaltending breaks this postseason. The Nashville Predators did not have injured starter Juuse Saros. The St. Louis Blues misplaced a resurgent Jordan Binnington to harm in Recreation 3. And Edmonton Oilers goalie Mike Smith was … well, Mike Smith.
Opposing goaltenders have a mixed save proportion of .886 in opposition to the Avalanche this postseason. However barring one thing unexpected, the Avalanche will face their hardest net-minding competitors within the Stanley Cup Last — and the participant many take into account to be one of the best goalie on the planet.
The postseason did not begin off nice for Vasilevskiy, as he gave up 22 objectives in seven video games to the high-octane Toronto Maple Leafs. However he was nice when it mattered most, stopping 30 of 31 pictures in Recreation 7. Exterior of a hiccup in Recreation 1 in opposition to the Rangers, after a nine-day layoff, Vasilevskiy has been completely dominant. As coach Jon Cooper mentioned, he bought “his mojo again” because the playoffs went on.
In Vasilevskiy, the Avalanche face one of many best postseason goalies in NHL historical past. It isn’t simply how good he is, nevertheless it’s when he’s at his greatest: In 23 earlier series-clinching video games, Vasilevskiy had a 1.65 goals-against common and 6 shutouts. A 3rd straight Stanley Cup may solidify his legacy as top-of-the-line ever.
“Once we look again, once we’re older, that is going to be one thing that stays there a very long time. It is fairly cool to play with a participant that is going to go down as top-of-the-line that is ever performed the sport,” Killorn mentioned. “That is the way you gauge gamers: How they play in big-time video games. He is been nothing however great in these video games.”
That championship adaptability
Throughout their run to the Last, the Avalanche have been a staff that may win an 8-6 sport as comfortably as they will win a 4-Zero shutout. In reality, they did each in the identical sequence in opposition to the Edmonton Oilers. As Colorado star Nathan MacKinnon mentioned, the Avalanche can play with offensive flourish at dwelling after which play “boring and gross” hockey on the highway to sluggish groups down.
The Avalanche are cooking with a recipe the Lightning created of their previous two championship seasons. Tampa Bay has the offensive gamers to go aim for aim with the Avalanche, who lead the playoffs with 4.64 objectives per sport. However the Lightning even have the power to win 1-0, with veteran gamers embodying the affected person poise obligatory to take action.
“I feel it is simply perception in ourselves and perception within the work you place in. However belief is the phrase. We belief each guy that goes over these boards to do his job. Whether or not you rating a aim or not, it is the little issues that you just do. It is the defending. It is the blocked pictures. It is the sacrifice. It isn’t complaining about your position. It is going out and taking part in as onerous as you may for the guy that sits beside you in that locker room,” Stamkos mentioned.
“That is why this group is so particular. We do not know what is going on to occur right here within the subsequent 10-14 days. However we all know we will give it our all.”
There is no telling how a sequence will play out earlier than it is performed, nevertheless it would not be stunning to see the Stanley Cup Last change into a battle between the Colorado offense and the number of methods the Lightning will try to defend it. They’ve Vasilevskiy because the spine. They’ve Hedman and McDonagh taking part in near 47 minutes per sport between them. They’ve a newly fashioned checking line with Hagel, Cirelli and Killorn who dominated the Rangers at 5-on-5, and a set of forwards who pleasure themselves on defending by any means obligatory.
“Does it get contagious? It does. God forbid you watch a guy [block a shot] after which you may have an opportunity to do it. You come to the bench and it isn’t a enjoyable place to be in the event you’re not keen to try this. So guys get in line in that regard,” Cooper mentioned. “That is been the historical past with us for numerous years. It is type of constructed into our tradition.”
A championship tradition, and one that ought to make for an excellent Stanley Cup Last in opposition to the Avalanche.
Stamkos mentioned the Avalanche have been a staff the Lightning anticipated to have performed already for the Stanley Cup. Colorado didn’t advance previous the second spherical in three straight seasons.
“Now they’ve damaged via. They’ve simply an unbelievable mixture of veteran gamers, star energy, grinders, goalie. An enormous problem for us,” Stamkos mentioned. “We all know how we have now to play. It is no secret they’ve some electrical gamers.”
As do the Lightning. They’ll run and gun. However more than likely, it’s going to be their protection that would make the distinction between turning into the sixth team since 1983 to fall short of a three-peat or the primary official cap-era dynasty.
“We do not care the way it will get accomplished. It simply must get accomplished,” Stamkos mentioned. “We’ll the finals once more. We now have an opportunity to do one thing actually particular.”