How Lightning, Avalanche stack up in Stanley Cup Final

The two-time defending champions against the up-and-coming talents who finally want to surpass themselves.

It’s a compelling face-off with a wealth of juicy storylines as the Tampa Bay Lightning and Colorado Avalanche face off in the 2022 Stanley Cup Finals, which begins Wednesday at Ball Arena (8 p.m. ET, Sportsnet and Sportsnet NOW).

The Avalanche have been patiently waiting to see who their opponent would be, and they got the answer to that question on Saturday when the Lightning eliminated the New York Rangers in Game 6 of the Eastern Conference Finals.

For the third time in as many rounds, Lightning goaltender Andrei Vasilevskiy conceded just one goal in an elimination game, and Steven Stamkos scored the winning goal of the series just 21 seconds after Frank Vatrano scored a power-play marker (with the Tampa Bay captain ). a small penalty for holding) to a tie in the third period.

It feels like these two teams have been on a collision course since the start of this playoff, with the Lightning running the gamut of emotions from the ups and downs of the Toronto Maple Leafs’ opening-round tumble to the Florida’s second-round smash Panthers.

That set the stage for an intriguing series with Rangers taking a comfortable 2-0 lead in the series by winning the first two games at home before the Lightning came back to win the next four games – including several in a dramatic way.

Over in the Western Conference, the Avalanche was a well-oiled machine, sweeping the Nashville Predators in the opening round and beating the St. Louis Blues in six games.

Another win came in the third round as the Avalanche played at incredible pace and the Edmonton Oilers rebounded to qualify for the Stanley Cup Finals for the first time in more than two decades (2001).

Can the Blitz hold on to the title belt and secure a triple-peat, or is the Avalanche ready for another great moment on an already wild ride for a franchise that has recently overcome some heartache in the form of three consecutive second-round exits? ?

“It’s a step in the right direction. And it was good to go through another round,” Avalanche captain Gabriel Landeskog said after Game 4 against the Oilers. “We know the work is not over yet.”

The Lightning also know the job isn’t over, having topped each of the past two seasons and know what it takes to reach the ultimate goal.

With that in mind, here’s a closer look at some of the matchups that could help determine the winner of an epic battle for puck dominance:

Nathan MacKinnon vs. Anthony Cirelli

The Avalanche’s top center was a man on a mission, and it doesn’t matter if he’s up against a Selke winner (Ryan O’Reilly) or asked to try to become the best player in the world (Connor McDavid). brakes ), he was previously ready for the job. MacKinnon was commended by Avalanche head coach Jared Bednar for his willingness to sacrifice some attacks to examine the details of his head-to-head.

Cirelli did an excellent job of even strength in the Eastern Conference Finals against Mika Zibanejad, and you can bet Lightning head coach Jon Cooper will try to have Cirelli on the ice with MacKinnon whenever possible.

VfL Bochum versus 1. FC Union Berlin Kal Makar

A past Norris Trophy winner (2017-18) at Hedman and a future Norris Trophy winner at Makar and the value for their respective teams are off the charts. Hedman is fourth on the team list (two goals, 14 points in 17 games), averaging more than 25 minutes of ice time per game and is available in all situations.

Makar excelled and delivered excellent play in all three zones. With nine points in the Oilers’ four games (including a five-point night in clincher), Makar has up to five goals and 22 points in 14 games, making him a serious contender for the Conn Smythe Trophy.

Gabe Landeskog vs. Steven Stamko

The captains both play solid hockey in general, offer excellent leadership and play an offensive role. Landeskog is second in playoff goals (eight) and third on points (17) in 14 games, while Stamkos leads the Lightning in goals (nine) and is third on the team in points (15). Both players were also physically involved and set the emotional tone for their teams.

Ondrej Palat versus Artturi Lehkonen

This is the battle of the wingers, who are generally underestimated by the general public, but not by those who know them well or are running alongside them. Palat is a pending unrestricted free agent who will not be short of applicants and his established value is rising after scoring game-winning goals in Games 4 and 5 against Rangers.

Speaking of flying a little under the radar, Lehkonen provided the series winner in overtime against the Oilers. One of several low-maintenance acquisitions by Avalanche GM Joe Sakic ahead of the NHL trade deadline, Lehkonen is someone Bednar can lean on no matter the situation: defending a lead, looking for an equaliser, taking penalties or jumping for top- powerplay unit.

Both players contribute to all facets of the game and they do it well.

Mikko Rantanen vs. Nikita Kucherov

The narrative leading up to the Stanley Cup Finals is very different than it was for Rantanen when he went into the series with the Oilers. Despite being offensive in the first two rounds (11 points in 10 games), Rantanen was limited to one goal from an empty net, but he has scored in four straight games (only one of them a goal from an empty net) and seems to have done so haben found the touch that allowed him to lead the Avalanche in goals (36) and points (92) in the regular season.

Meanwhile, Kucherov made great use of his remarkable vision and passing game, assisting teammates at crucial moments (16 assists in total) while scoring seven goals, demonstrating the skills that allowed him to be a key player.

Brayden Point vs Nazem Kadri

Two incredibly valuable players are dealing with significant injuries, but both could be involved in this streak before it’s over. Point missed a 10th straight game on Saturday with a lower body injury, although Cooper told reporters after Game 6 that the door remains open: “I don’t know how likely Game 1 is, but it’s extremely likely he’ll play the series .”

Earlier this week, Kadri underwent surgery on his injured right thumb, and Bednar told reporters in Denver he’s already back in the gym and should be back on the ice in the coming days.

Injury information is generally hard to come by, especially at this time of year, but both coaches would like to have these players available, even if they’re not 100 per cent. Point and Kadri are influential players when they’re available, and the series gets even better when both players are involved, assuming their health allows it.

Andrei Wassiljewskij vs. Darcy Kümper

This is one area where the Lightning seems to have a decided gap, at least on paper. Vasilevskiy has had some uncharacteristic hiccups during the playoffs, but he’s been exceptional lately, resembling the goalie who carried the post and was nearly unbeatable in both losses and eliminations. Only Rangers’ Igor Shesterkin has kept more goals than expected (according to Money Puck) during the playoffs, and he’s lowered his save percentage to .928 and goals-against-average to 2.28.

Kuemper hasn’t played since leaving Game 1 of the Western Conference Finals in the second period with an undisclosed upper-body injury, but he served as a backup in Game 4 and told reporters in Denver last week that he was completely healthy and ready to go walk. However, he declined to go into detail about the nature of the injury. Pavel Francouz has done a good job, but the Avalanche will need Kuemper to find his regular-season form (.921 save rate, 2.58 GAA) to try to knock out the two-time defending champion.

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