Tampa Bay – The Tampa Bay Lightning defeated the New York Rangers and advanced to the Stanley Cup Final for the third consecutive season, with the Colorado Avalanche rested and ready for game one (Wednesday, 8 EST, ESPN).
Here are five things we’ve learned about Lightning so far in the post-season 2022 journey and what it means for the final showdown.
Three peat on hand
The NHL hasn’t had a three-peat team as the Stanley Cup champion since 1983, when the New Yorkers ended their dynasty. Since then, six more teams have won back-to-back Stanley Cups. Five of them failed to advance after the second round until the East Lightning won this season.
“You don’t get these chances often. They don’t come. It’s like we’ve seen the top of the mountain. Let’s keep looking for more,” Lightning coach John Cooper said.
It’s a classic Stanley Cup match: the Colorado Avalanche, trying to finally break through to win their first cup since 2001 after a few years as a top contender; And Lightning, now just four wins away from an unprecedented achievement in the NHL salary cap era, which began in 2005.
(Mostly) old faces, same success
Avalanche is facing Team Lightning whose core is the same teams that have won consecutive cups.
Tampa Bay is powered by the stars:
Steven Stamkos, captain of the team with 481 career goals
Winger Nikita Kucherov, former best player in the league and top scorer in the playoffs
Brayden Point, who has missed nearly two games through injury but has scored more goals in the playoff than any other player in the past three seasons
Defenseman Victor Hedman was nominated for six consecutive seasons for the Norris Award as Best Defender in the National Hockey League, and Best Playoff Player of the Year 2020
Defenseman Ryan McDonagh, Steady Veteran
Goalie Andrei Vasilevskiy, Playoff Player of the Year 2021
They are supported by a returning crew of characters including winger Ondrej Palat, who scored two goals to prevent overtime, and won goals against the Rangers; strong forwards Alex Killorn and Pat Maron, who is trying to play for the fourth consecutive winner of the cup; Ice central defender Anthony Cirelli, who closed the Rangers top line; And Mikhail Sergechev’s defense was smooth skating.
What is the most impressive thing about this run? that Lightning has lost the entire checking streak and some key role players from its previous two cup wins; She replaced them with veteran pickup trucks (Corey Berry, Pierre-Edouard Bellemare) and takeovers on trade deadlines (Brandon Hagel, Nick Paul); And he didn’t miss anything.
“We were looking for the right person,” said general manager Julian Presboa. “We are looking for men who have pride and have ambition. Pride is what will drive you to keep pushing yourself when things are not going well for you. Ambition will fuel your continued success. You are still hungry for more.”
Kucherov from the elite
Both The Avalanche and Lightning have elite skaters who can take over the games. Kucherov is chief among them. Kucherov has 23 points in 17 games, split evenly between 5-on-5 and power play. No NHL player has scored more points than Kucherov over the past three seasons. While his goal-scoring prowess is elite, it is his ability to play and distribute the puck that enables him to collect points.
It is the speed regulator for lightning. When he’s confident and rolls offensively, they pay attention. “You can hear the chatter on the seat when he comes down [the ice]. “Guys know your best player is playing a huge game,” Stamkos said.
If the Lightning team wins the Stanley Cup for the third time in a row, it may be Kucherov’s turn to lift the Conn Smythe Cup as the man of the match.
Can Avs defeat Vasilevsky?
Colorado caught some goal-breaking this postseason. Nashville Predators rookie Joos Sarros was unhurt. The St. Louis Blues lost the return of Jordan Bennington to injury in Game Three. And Edmonton Oilers goalkeeper Mike Smith was…well, Mike Smith.
Opposing goalkeepers have a combined save rate of .886 against this postseason avalanche. But with one unexpected exception, Avalanche will face the toughest mental competition in the Stanley Cup Final—and the player many consider the best goalkeeper in the world.
Post-season didn’t start out great for Vasilievsky, conceding 22 goals in seven games against the high-octane Toronto Maple Leafs. But he was brilliant when it mattered most, stopping 30 of 31 shots in Match 7. Far from hiccuping in Match 1 against Rangers, after a nine-day absence, Vasilevsky was absolutely in control. As coach John Cooper said, he regained his “magic” as the playoffs continued.
In Vasilevskiy, an avalanche faces one of the greatest goalkeepers in NHL history. It’s not just about how good he is, but when he’s at his best: In his previous 23 consecutive matches, Vasilevsky scored 1.65 goals against an average and six goals. A third Stanley Cup in a row could cement his legacy as one of the best ever.
“When we look back, when we get older, that’s going to be something that stays there for a long time. It’s great to be playing with a player who is going to be one of the best players who’ve ever played this game,” Killorn said. “That’s how you measure players: how they play in the big games. He’s been great at these games.”
That tournament adaptability
During their run to the final, Avalanche was a team that could win 8-6 as comfortably as they could win 4-0. In fact, they did both in the same series against the Edmonton Oilers. As Colorado star Nathan McKinnon said, an avalanche can play an offensive home run and then play “boring and gross” hockey on the road to slow the teams down.
Avalanche is cooking with a recipe the Lightning has created in the past two championship seasons. Tampa Bay has two attacking players to score with Avalanche, who leads the playoffs with 4.64 goals per game. But Lightning also has the potential to win 1-0, with veteran players embodying the patient poise necessary to do so.
There’s no telling how a series will play out before it’s played, but it wouldn’t be surprising to see the Stanley Cup final turn into a battle between Colorado’s offensive and the variety of ways Lightning will try to defend it. They have Vasilevskiy as a backbone. They have Hedman and McDonagh playing approximately 47 minutes per game between them. They have a newly formed checking streak with Hagel, Cirelli and Killorn who dominated Rangers in 5-5, and a group of forwards who pride themselves on defending by any means necessary.
“Is it contagious? It is. God forbid that you see a man.” [block a shot] And then you have a chance to do it. You come to the seat and it is not a pleasant place if you are not willing to do so. “So the guys are lining up on that,” Cooper said. This has been history with us for a number of years. It’s kind of built into our culture.”
Championship culture, a culture that should lead to a fantastic Stanley Cup final against Avalanche.