NHL Stanley Cup Finals 2022: Avalanche vs. Lightning
At long last, the final two teams have battled their way to compete for the Stanley Cup in 2022. We’ve got the Colorado Avalanche vs. the Tampa Bay Lightning, but which team will win? Let’s break it all down here.
Recapping the NHL Conference Finals
In some ways, it was the result that many predicted, but perhaps not the way we assumed it would happen.
Avalanche sweep the Oilers, 4-0
The Avalanche will head to a Stanley Cup Final for the first time since 2001, which now explains how hungry the team was to defeat the Oilers in a flash.
Edmonton is a solid team led by one of the best offensive talents in the game, Connor McDavid, but Colorado breezed past them without a backward glance. That said, Game 4 did give the Avalanche a bit of trouble, as it was a hard-fought 6-5 overtime victory that gave Colorado the ticket to the Stanley Cup Final.
With the Avalanche trailing 2-4 in the third period, it appeared as if the Oilers would at least win a single game and perhaps make a real series out of it. That was, until the epic comeback started.
Colorado put the pedal to the metal and picked up three quick goals to take a 5-4 lead with only five minutes to go in the game. Not to be outdone, Oilers’ Zack Kassian snuck in a very cheeky goal to tie the game 5-5. That’s the way the game ended and the two teams went into the extra period to determine the winner.
The Avalanche’s star defenseman, Cale Maker, was absolutely huge for his team on the night with one goal and four assists. However, the winning shot belonged to that of winger Artturi Lehkonen, who chipped in the game-ending goal when the puck bounced off Oilers goalie Mike Smith. You couldn’t have asked for a better fairy tale ending to a stunning game.
Lightning dispatch Rangers in fantastic Conference Finals, 4-2
Things were a little more difficult for the Lightning, but their epic 2-1 win over the Rangers was good enough to advance to the Stanley Cup Final. Tampa Bay has won the last two NHL championships, so it remains an interesting question as to whether they can grab three trophies in a row.
Against the Rangers in Game 6, it was Lightning’s captain, Steven Stamkos, becoming the hero he was born to be by scoring two goals that sealed a tough matchup versus a never-say-die Rangers team.
Of course, it wasn’t all Stamkos, as Tampa Bay goalie, Andrei Vasilevskiy, was like The Hulk in front of the net by preventing 20 of 21 shot attempts. This Lightning win showed just how beautiful the balance between defense and offense can be in ice hockey.
The Rangers looked fantastic straight out of the gate, winning the first two games in New York and taking away everything that made Tampa Bay great. Despite that, the next four games saw the Lightning strike back with a vengeance and the team displayed the form we’ve come to know from the last three seasons.
Previewing the 2022 Stanley Cup Finals
Let’s take a look at the Avalanche vs. Lightning matchup.
Key players to watch
For the Avalanche, we all know it’s going to be Nathan MacKinnon (18 points in the playoffs) who must play his tail off for Colorado to have any chance. He’s easily the fastest, strongest player on the roster, but his hockey IQ puts him one step above the others and makes him such a threat at any point in the game.
MacKinnon and the Avalanche won’t succeed unless Cale Maker continues his outstanding form during the playoffs. With 22 points in this postseason, Maker is a real difference-maker (sorry) that always steadies the team when things get rattled. Maker is smart, savvy, and extremely talented on both ends of the rink, which means the Lightning will have to watch out for him at all times.
For the Lightning, all eyes will be on Nikita Kucherov to see how he’ll continue to dominate on the ice. Kucherov is like literal lightning out there and zips in and out of defenders before they’ve realized what’s happened. He leads the team with 23 points (seven goals and 16 assists) in the playoffs and he will be the sole reason that Tampa Bay can win their third title in a row.
The Lightning will continue to be feared when Andrei Vasilevskiy is the goaltender. His .928 save percentage is astonishing and there’s rarely a game when Vasilevskiy isn’t a major factor by either stopping or altering a shot with his rapid reflexes in front of the goal.
The Avalanche’s Artturi Lehkonen has been a perfect fit for the current team since the trade deadline. His stalwart defensive efforts are crucial, but he’s not to be underestimated on offense, either – lose track of him at your peril. Expect Lehkonen to get more time on the ice if Nazem Kadri is unable to make it back.
Lehkonen already has three game-winning goals, the most recent of which was against the Oilers in Game 4, so he has a cool demeanor under pressure that will certainly be needed when it’s crunch time against the Lightning.
Steven Stamkos’ presence on the Lightning is just what Tampa Bay requires for decisive, calm hockey when the puck is dropped in Game 1 vs. the Avalanche. Stamkos has the skill and experience to get Tampa Bay through games that can fall apart, and he has a great skill of seemingly lying in wait until his talents are needed. Look for him to make a big play or two at the right time.
Prediction for the Final
Colorado has a massive advantage of a long respite, as the team hasn’t played since wrapping up the Conference Finals on June 6th. There’s really no substitute for a lengthy time of chilling to rest body and mind. The Avalanche has arguably the best offense in the NHL right now, and Tampa Bay should be worried that its opposition is well rested.
The Avalanche has four players currently in the top 10 list of playoff scoring, so no matter if someone on the roster is having a bad game, there’s someone else available to pick up the slack.
The Lightning has championship experience, having won the last two Stanley Cups, whereas Colorado has a totally different team and will be seeking its first championship since 2001. Team continuity is not to be overstated, as Tampa Bay’s core squad is like a well-oiled machine.
The offense/defense duo of Nikita Kucherov and Andrei Vasilevskiy is arguably the best in the NHL, meaning that the Lightning will be full of confidence and can beat anyone with a variety of weapons on the ice.
Winner: Colorado Avalanche in 7 games
Colorado has looked just too strong in the playoffs and has the grit and skill on the roster to hoist the Stanley Cup. The squad has lost two games throughout the 2022 playoffs and has averaged 4.64 goals per game, yet gave up just 2.86 per game.
The Avalanche has been known to be iffy on defense at times by letting in far too many goals and relying on a great offense to bail them out. This won’t work as well against the Lightning, which is why Tampa Bay will win three games.
Colorado without Nazem Kadri is an issue, as he was playing in fantastic form throughout the postseason with six goals and eight assists. Kadri picked up a hand injury in Game 3 vs. the Oilers, but while the recovery is going well, it might not be fast enough for him to play against Tampa Bay.
That said, the Lightning is also likely to miss Brandon Point, who hasn’t played a game since Game 7 of the first round. Point is rumored to appear at some time in the Stanley Cup Final, but this will be the series where his absence is notable.
As awesome as it would be for the Lightning to pick up three championships in a row, it feels like Colorado’s time this year and we’re going to see the Avalanche get the victory in seven games in 2022.
Game 1 date & time
The first game will be played in Colorado at 8pm ET on Wednesday, June 15th. The matchup will be shown live on ABC.
Author: Joe Garland