Like most dynastic teams, the Tampa Bay Lightning weren’t used to failing in important games. As they won two straight Stanley Cups and were on the doorstep of a third, the Bolts amassed a 44-18 record in the playoffs – rarely facing elimination, although they always answered the call when the need arose. But for the first time in years, the Lightning met their opponent in the form of the Colorado Avalanche. Colorado won the Stanley Cup Sunday night by defeating the two-time defending champion and possessing a titanic championship showdown that was hard fought but ultimately belonged to the better team. And now that a special run has been put on hold, one naturally wonders if the young and talented Avalanche have just started a new one of their own.
Colorado’s performance this postseason has been dominant. The Avs finished the playoffs with a 16-4 record, a plus 1.5 goal difference per game, and a 1631 Elo rating, all of which rank in the top dozen Stanley Cup winners in modern NHL history :
|1968 Canadian||92.3%||1981 Islanders||+2.72||1977 Canadian||1716|
|1976 Canadian||92.3||1970 Brown Bears||2.29||1978 Canadian||1711|
|1988 oiler||88.9||1985 oiler||2.28||1976 Canadian||1673|
|1970 Brown Bears||85.7||1977 Canadian||2.21||1979 Canadian||1665|
|1977 Canadian||85.7||1983 Islanders||2.05||1982 Islanders||1656|
|1969 Canadian||85.7||1972 Brown Bears||2.00||1989 flames||1648|
|1981 Islanders||83.3||1984 oiler||2.00||1972 Brown Bears||1646|
|1985 oiler||83.3||1978 Canadian||1.93||1984 oiler||1644|
|1972 Brown Bears||80.0||1968 Canadian||1.77||1973 Canadian||1642|
|1978 Canadian||80.0||1982 Islanders||1.74||1985 oiler||1639|
|1995 devil||80.0||1995 devil||1.65||1952 Red Wings||1637|
|2022 avalanche||80.0||1988 oiler||1.63||2022 avalanche||1631|
|2012 kings||80.0||2022 avalanche||1.50||1944 Canadians||1629|
|1997 Red Wings||80.0||1990 oiler||1.50||1981 Islanders||1628|
|1993 Canadian||80.0||1987 oiler||1.43||1983 Islanders||1627|
As impressive as the Avalanche’s overall record was, the fact that they defeated Tampa Bay of all places in the finals makes this championship even more special. Including the Lightning in 2020 and 2021, only 17 teams in the NHL era had ever won two or more trophies in a row. Of those, only nine runs were completed by the team that eventually won the trophy for themselves – and of those, only five title streaks ended in the Stanley Cup Finals. Wins like this changing of the guard don’t come often, but by the end of the series there was no doubt that Colorado deserved its championship.
The Avalanche did this with full commitment at every stage of the game. Throughout the season, we marveled at Colorado’s goal-scoring firepower, led by center Nathan MacKinnon, defenseman Cale Makar and an incredibly strong supporting cast of offensive talent. And that showed in the playoffs, where the Avalanche had the most goals per game (4.25) by a Cup winner since 1988 and ninth since 1927. They also converted 32.8 percent of their power plays in the playoffs playoffs (including a 37.5 percent clip against Tampa). Meanwhile, Makar won the Conn Smythe Trophy as playoff MVP, in large part because he had the fourth-highest points ever in a postseason by a defenseman.
But Colorado also showed its defense when needed. After the Avalanche took a 2-1 lead against Tampa Bay in the second half of Game 6, the Avalanche denied the Lightning a major chance to equalize – they held the Lightning to just four shots in the final frame and choked them on the Direct a scene straight from Tampa’s standard script. A number of Tampa Bay’s usual offensive stars found frustration in Game 6 — Victor Hedman, Nikita Kucherov and Alex Killorn were deemed futile — and that was emblematic of the series as a whole. Even the sometimes maligned Colorado goalie Darcy Kuemper was keen on the tightrope, stopping 22 of 23 Lightning shots Sunday night.
This could also be just the beginning for Colorado, whose best players are mostly under 30 — and whose regular-season roster was the 12th-youngest in hockey weighted by adjusted goals over replacements. General Manager Joe Sakic has done a masterful job of building this team from the ground up, pulling together a host of homegrown talent and augmenting it with clever outside acquisitions to create a dominant hockey machine. While the Avs have some decisions to make and free-hand gaps to fill, much of their core will return for another leap into the Cup next season… and beyond.
Of course, Colorado still has a long way to go before it joins Tampa Bay in the dynasty talk. But the Avalanche’s Stanley Cup win on Sunday was the hard-fought exclamation point in one of the most impressive playoff runs we’ve seen in a while. The Lightning were the opponent who hadn’t lost for so long, it seemed they were unbeatable. But in the end, Colorado was just too good a team to turn down.