Colorado Avalanche (1C) vs. Tampa Bay Lightning (3A)
Avalanche: 56-19-7, 119 points
Lightning: 51-23-8, 110 points
Season series: COLL 2-0; TBL 0-1-1
Game 1: Wednesday, 8 p.m. ET (ESPN+, ABC, SN, CBC, TVAS)
The Tampa Bay Lightning will look to win the Stanley Cup for a third consecutive season when they play the Colorado Avalanche in the Stanley Cup Final.
The Lightning would be the first team to win three times in a row since the New York Islanders won the Cup four straight seasons from 1980-83. The Avalanche last won the Cup in 2001.
“Just sitting up here right now and thinking of the magnitude of going to a third Stanley Cup Final,” Lightning coach Jon Cooper said. “You grow up as a kid and I was not near good enough to play in this league, but when you’re growing up in Canada, you always dream about having your name on a Stanley Cup. To get there the first time was a dream come true. To get there a second time, the next year, it was a dream. To go a third time is unthinkable.”
Tampa Bay defeated the New York Rangers in six games in the Eastern Conference Final to advance.
Colorado will end up waiting nine days after it completed a four-game sweep of the Edmonton Oilers in the Western Conference Final on June 6. They Avalanche had an eight-day layoff after they swept the Nashville Predators in the first round.
“Coaches do a good job of making sure we’re working, getting the work in and it is good to get a little bit of a rest, but we’ve been through this already in these playoffs where we’ve had time to get ready for a series,” Avalanche forward J.T. Compher said. “It’s just keeping your mind in it. you have a little time to relax, but just mentally making sure you’re refreshed and focused on the goal ahead.”
[RELATED: 2022 Stanley Cup Final schedule | Stanley Cup Final coverage]
The Avalanche won both regular-season games against the Lightning. Forward Gabriel Landeskog (two goals, one assist) had three points in two games against them and forward Nathan MacKinnon had three points (one goal, two assists) in one game. Goalie Darcy Kuemper was 2-0 with a 2.40 goals-against average and .929 save percentage.
Forward Brayden Point led the Lightning with three points (two goals, one assist) in two games against the Avalanche. Forwards Steven Stamkos (one goal, one assist) and Ondrej Palat (two assists) each had two points. Goalie Andrei Vasilevskiy was 0-1-1 with a 2.96 GAA and .919 save percentage in two starts.
Point has a lower-body injury and has not played since Game 7 of the first round against the Toronto Maple Leafs. Cooper wasn’t sure of Point’s status for Game 1 but said it’s “extremely probable” that Point plays in the series.
Avalanche: MacKinnon has 18 points and leads Colorado with 11 goals in 14 playoff games. MacKinnon also leads the Avalanche with five power-play goals and scored his second career postseason hat trick against the St. Louis Blues in Game 5 of the Western Conference Second Round. His speed and strength always make him a focus for the opposition.
Lightning: Nikita Kucherov continue to be a force for Tampa Bay. The forward leads the Lightning with 23 points (seven goals, 16 assists) in 17 playoff games. He’s nine points away from the career-high 34 points (seven goals, 27 assists) he had in 25 playoff games in 2020. Kucherov has three goals and three assists during a five-game point streak.
Avalanche: Kuemper missed the final three games of the conference final after sustaining an upper-body injury in Game 1 against the Oilers. He would be available Wednesday, but will Colorado go with Kuemper or Pavel Francouz, who started and won Games 2, 3 and 4 against Edmonton? Avalanche coach Jared Bednar said he and his staff will discuss the options. Kuemper is 6-2 with a 2.65 GAA and .897 save percentage in 10 starts; Francouz is 6-0 with a 2.86 GAA, .906 save percentage and one shutout in six games (four starts).
Lightning: There’s no doubt who is starting for Tampa Bay. Vasilevskiy is 12-5-0 with a 2.27 GAA, .928 save percentage and one shutout in 17 starts. He won the Conn Smythe Trophy as most valuable player in the postseason when the Lightning won the Cup in 2021 and is in the running again for that honor. He’s 61-34 with a 2.24 GAA, .925 save percentage and seven shutouts in 98 career playoff games (93 starts).
Numbers to know
Avalanche: 31.1. Power-play percentage for Colorado, which is 14-for-45 and has scored with the man-advantage in nine of its 14 postseason games. The Avalanche have picked up where they left off in the regular season, when they had the seventh-best power play in the NHL (67-for-279, 24 percent).
Lightning: 2.41. Goals-against per game in 16 games, the best of any team remaining in the postseason (the Dallas Stars allowed 2.14 goals per game in seven games). Tampa Bay has allowed two or fewer goals in nine playoff games. In closing out their series against New York, the Lightning held the Rangers to one goal in each of the last three games.
Avalanche: Hold Makar. He could’ve been listed as a game breaker as well, because he is. The defenseman plays with the savvy of a top-end forward and he leads Colorado with 22 points (five goals, 17 assists) in 14 playoff games. He saved his best for Game 4 of the conference final, when he had five points (one goal, four assists) to help eliminate the Oilers. He was the first defenseman in NHL history to have five points in a series-clinching game.
Lightning: Ondrej Palat. A seventh-round (No. 208) selection by Tampa Bay in the 2011 NHL Draft, the forward has been outstanding this postseason. He has 16 points (eight goals, eight assists) in 17 games, second on the Lightning behind Kucherov. Palat, whose eight goals are second on the Lightning to Steven Stamkos with nine, always seems to be in the right place at the right time. He has two game-winning goals this postseason and 11 for his career, most in Lightning history.
They said it
“There’s no secret that they have some electric players and, to be honest, [they’re] probably a team we thought we would’ve played the last couple years. … They have just an unbelievable mix of veteran presence, star power, grinders, goalie. So, a huge challenge for us, but we’ll put a game plan here together in the next couple days and, just as we do every series, try to execute it as best we can and give ourselves a chance.” — Lightning captain Steven Stamkos
“They’re just a team that knows how to win at this point. They’ve done it the last two years, and they’re on the verge of doing it again. Any of those teams, they’ve been through countless times of adversity and different situations that they’ve had to face, and each time, they kind of come out of it. So, that’s something we’re going to have to key in on.” — Avalanche defenseman Devon Toews
Will win if…
Avalanche: They get goaltending, from whoever starts. Colorado obviously faced some firepower against Edmonton in forwards Connor McDavid, Leon Draisaitl and Evander Kane. The Avalanche will have to deal with it again with the Lightning with Kucherov, Victor Hedman, Palat and Stamkos, among others. Be it Kuemper or Francouz, he’ll have to be at his best and will need the same from the defense in front of him.
Lightning: If they can hold up. Tampa Bay’s depth has been critical in getting this far after winning the Stanley Cup in 2020 and 2021. Now the Lightning are coming off another lengthy series against the Rangers, but the Avalanche haven’t played since June 6. They’ve played a lot of hockey over the past three seasons, and it would be easy to think it’s finally going to catch up to them. Betting against them, however, doesn’t seem wise.
how they look
Avalanche projected lineup
Gabriel Landeskog — Nathan MacKinnon — Artturi Lehkonen
Valery Nichushkin — Nazem Kadri — Mikko Rantanen
Andre Burakovsky –JT Compher– Nicolas Aube-Kubel
Andrew Cogliano — Darren Helm — Logan O’Connor
Devon Toews — Cale Makar
Jack Johnson — Josh Manson
Bowen Byram — Erik Johnson
Scratched: Nico Sturm, Alex Newhook, Ryan Murray, Kurtis MacDermidTrent Miner
Injured: Samuel Girard (sternum)
Lightning projected lineup
Ondrej Palat — Steven Stamkos — Nikita Kucherov
Brandon Hagel — Anthony Cirelli — Alex Killorn
Ross Colton — Nicholas Paul — Corey Perry
Pat Maroon — Pierre-Edouard Bellemare — Riley Nash
Victor Hedman — Jan Rutta
Ryan McDonagh — Erik Cernak
Mikhail Sergachev — Zach Bogosyan
Scratched: Cal Foote
Injured: Brayden Point (lower body)