DENVER — By defeating the Edmonton Oilers in the Western Conference Finals, the Colorado Avalanche bought themselves nine days to study the Tampa Bay Lightning and hatch a plan to topple the champions.
Head Coach Jared Bednar and his staff scoured all three of Tampa’s series en route to the championship round, looking for weaknesses that Lightning’s other opponents might have been exploiting.
Why couldn’t the Florida Panthers get a foothold in Round 2? What did the New York Rangers get right to win Games 1 and 2 in the Eastern Conference Finals? And why did Rangers’ success flag so noticeably as that streak went deep, limiting the Lightning New York to just one equal-strength goal in their last four games?
“They’re very comfortable in these tight checking games,” Bednar says. “The more controlled, tighter play on their side favors them.
Of the Lightning’s last six playoff opponents, no team has broken through the champions’ stifling style as regularly as the Toronto Maple Leafs.
Toronto is the only club to surpass Lightning (24-23) during their remarkable 11-streak winning streak.
So Bednar spent most of his time contemplating that seven-game first-round match.
“Of course it was a great series. It was a dynamic series. And I see a lot of similarities in the Leafs’ game, personally and with ours,” says Bednar. “Some of the things they do with the puck in their offensive strategy, structure, tactics, whatever you want to call it, there’s a lot of similarities.”
Like Toronto, the Avalanche is packed with elite top-end talent. Both teams value puck possession and use their speed for quick counterattacks.
Both are more likely to win the 4-3 game than the 2-1 game.
Neither is as strict as Tampa, and the high-scoring nature of the Leafs-Lightning bias (47 goals in seven games, easily the most in a series during Tampa’s run) certainly gives Bednar hope to continue his high-tempo tone on the team thrived in game 1.
Bednar noted how similar his club plays to Sheldon Keefe during his encounters with the Leafs this season as the teams combined for 20 goals in just two games.
“We learned that playing against them this year. So they have a lot of success,” says Bednar. “It’s hard to get that goal in time [Andrei] Vasilevskiy and Tampa as they defend. but [the Leafs] consistently had some really strong flare-ups, flare-ups that we looked at very closely.”