NHL Playoffs: Avalanche attempt to stop the Lightning’s three-peat


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Upon completion of the conference finals, the Colorado Avalanche and Tampa Bay Lightning will meet Wednesday in game one of the Stanley Cup Finals.

The race for the Stanley Cup Playoffs began with 32 teams this season. 16 teams finished the season in playoff positions, but after three rounds of games, only two remain; the Colorado Avalanche and the Tampa Bay Lightning. The Avalanche have been one of the league’s best regular season teams for the past few years, but have been unable to make it past the second round. This year, they’ve come out swinging, winning 12 of 14 games and sweeping both the Nashville Predators and the Edmonton Oilers in the first and third rounds respectively. Their opponent, the Tampa Bay Lightning, are playing in their third Stanley Cup Finals in as many years. They are the back-to-back defending Stanley Cup Champions and have won 11 playoff series in a row. There are no Cinderella stories this time around- only two formidable contenders who want to make the Stanley Cup theirs.

Colorado Avalanche:
The Avalanche are brimming with talent in every part of their lineup. On defense, they have Cale Makar, considered by many the best defenseman in the league at the moment and Devon Toews, a perfect complement to Makar and incredibly strong in his own right. On offense, they have well-regarded star Nathan MacKinnon, who has produced at an incredible pace so far, with 11 goals and 18 total points in 14 games. In addition to MacKinnon, forwards Mikko Rantanen, Gabriel Landeskog and Artturi Lehkonen have been crucial to the Avalanche’s success. Forward Nazem Kadri was injured in game three of the conference finals, which necessitated thumb surgery. It is unclear if the forward will return during the Stanley Cup Finals, although it has not been ruled out. Kadri was a large part of the Avalanche this year and was in the midst of a career season. While his loss will certainly be felt in the Avalanche’s lineup, it should not have too large of an impact on the scoreboard due to the production of Kadri’s teammates.

The Avalanche’s typical starting goaltender, Darcy Kuemper, missed the last three games of the conference finals with an undisclosed upper-body injury. He is reportedly healed and available for the finals but has had a rough offseason so far with a save percentage of 89.7, much worse than his regular season save percentage of 92.1. He would be, in most circumstances, the clear starter for the Avalanche, but the goaltender that filled in for him, backup Pavel Francouz has had a substantially stronger save percentage of 90.6 this playoffs and performed well while Kuemper was injured. Goaltending is always crucial, but against an offensively strong team like the Lightning, the Avalanche need whichever goaltender they choose to be at the top of their game.

Lightning overview:

It is impossible to discuss the presence of the Tampa Bay Lightning in the finals without addressing their recent playoff history; two Stanley Cup championships in the past two years. The last team to win three or more championships in a row was the New York Islanders in the early 1980s. The feat has only occurred five times total in NHL history (the Toronto Maple Leafs in 1947-49 and 1962-64 and the Montreal Canadiens in 1956-60 and 1976-79). Going into the playoffs, it seemed unlikely that the Lightning would join these teams, but as their playoff run has continued and they’ve gained steam, it seems entirely possible.

The Lightning have quite a star-studded lineup, including veteran forwards Nikita Kucherov and Steven Stamkos as well as star defenseman Victor Hedman, who is regarded as one of the best defensemen in the league at the moment. Forward Brayden Point, who has been very strong in the playoffs for the Lightning in the past, appears to finally be making his way back to the ice after his injury in the first round. Unlike the Avalanche, the Lightning have no questions in net. Goaltender Andrei Vasilevskiy has continued to perform incredibly, with a save percentage of 92.8 this playoffs.

The matchup:

This series will likely come down to whichever teams’ stars perform better, and whichever team has more production from across their lineup. If the Avalanche are unable to solidify their goaltending situation, the Lightning will certainly have an advantage. There is also the possibility of players returning from injury. While the Avalanche have proven they are fully capable of winning without him, a healthy Nazem Kadri would massively boost their chances. The same is true of the Lightning in regards to Brayden Point. These are two incredibly strong teams, and both are completely deserving of winning this year’s Stanley Cup. The finals begin this Wednesday at 8 p.m. EDT, and are available to watch on ESPN.