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Stanley Cup Finals preview: Avalanche vs. Lightning is the celebrity matchup we’ve been ready for

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The wage cap period of the NHL has produced a litany of playoff upsets all through the years which have robbed us of many marquee championship matchups, however not this 12 months. The 2022 Stanley Cup playoffs have two groups left standing, the Colorado Avalanche from the Western Convention and the Tampa Bay Lightning from the Jap Convention. Two groups of this caliber and star energy not often see one another within the season’s ultimate collection.

That is the type of collection the NHL has been dying to see on its greatest stage. Two heavyweights, going toe-to-toe to find out who’s the most effective. This matchup is, at the least on paper, the most effective Ultimate we have had in years. Personally, I really feel this Ultimate is the most effective matchup since Chicago and Boston throughout the shortened 2013 season.

However what’s at stake, and why must you care about Avalanche-Lightning for the Stanley Cup?

Star Energy

The celebs on this collection are unreal. The Avalanche boast a celebrity heart in Nathan Mackinnon, a Norris Trophy candidate in Cale Makar, and a bevy of star-level expertise all through their lineup (Nazem Kadri, Mikko Rantanen, Devon Toews, and extra). On the opposite facet, the Lightning boast a former Hart Trophy winner in Nikita Kucherov, a Norris Trophy-winning defender in Victor Hedman, the most effective goaltender on the planet in Andrei Vasilevskiy, and an envious group of star expertise (Brayden Level, Steven Stamkos, Anthony Cirelli, and extra).

Consider this just like the 2016 NBA Finals when the Cleveland Cavaliers confronted off in opposition to the Golden State Warriors. Two star-studded rosters at their peak, battling it out on the game’s greatest stage.

Potential Historical past-Making vs. Dethroning the Unbeatable

On one facet, you may have potential historical past within the making with the Lightning. Tampa Bay is the two-time defending champion — solely the second crew within the wage cap period to realize this feat — and has gained 11 consecutive playoff collection, which is third-most all-time. They’re now trying to change into the primary crew for the reason that Eighties New York Islanders to win three Cups in a row. They wish to solidify themselves as this period’s first true dynasty.

On the opposite facet, you may have the loaded and hungry Avalanche hoping to open their championship window and dethrone a crew that hasn’t misplaced a playoff collection in 1,156 days. Colorado’s ascension has been anticipated, however previous playoff failures delayed their arrival till this season. Nevertheless, make no mistake—the Avalanche have been dominant within the years main as much as this championship assembly.

The Matchups are Tantalizing

Makar vs. Hedman is the marquee ticket for the collection. Two of the most effective defensemen on the earth, going toe-to-toe at their peak for all of the marbles. Makar is a bonafide game-breaker each time he touches the puck. His silky-smooth skating, explosive velocity, and bomb of a shot make him essentially the most dynamic and harmful defender within the league. Hedman is the most effective two-way defenseman within the NHL, his positioning, poise, intelligence, and flexibility in all three zones make him a nightmare for groups to deal with.

Mackinnon vs. Kucherov could be the marquee matchup in every other Ultimate if the earlier two weren’t concerned. These forwards dictate every thing once they’re on the ice, and so they embody two distinctly completely different types of hockey. Mackinnon is a gifted velocity demon who can beat groups in numerous methods. He can deke round, race previous, or energy by you at will. Kucherov is a silent murderer, able to taking up a recreation at any second along with his shifty skating, world-class passing, and misleading shot. He is additionally solely the third participant in NHL historical past (behind Wayne Gretzky and Mario Lemieux) to register back-to-back 30+ level postseasons.

Vasilevskiy vs. Darcy Kuemper and Pavel Francouz can be an fascinating battle all through the collection. Vasilevskiy is the most effective goaltender on the planet, particularly within the postseason, and he poses the most important problem to Colorado’s ascension as champions. Vasilevskiy enters the Stanley Cup Ultimate with a .928 save proportion and a 2.27 goals-against common. He struggled early this postseason however bounced again with a vengeance after Sport 5 in opposition to the Toronto Maple Leafs within the first spherical. Kuemper and Francouz will sort out the netminding duties for Colorado and pose the juggernaut Avalanche’s greatest weak point. If Kuemper is wholesome, he’ll begin, however the drop-off to Francouz is minimal. Nevertheless, neither goaltender has been particularly sturdy this postseason, with Kuemper sporting a .897 save proportion and a 2.65 goals-against common and Francouz having a .906 save proportion and a 2.86 goals-against common.

This results in two fascinating factors for this collection and one thing that can be fascinating to look at. Colorado obliterated the Western Convention en path to the Ultimate, however they confronted weak groups and goaltenders in each spherical, whereas the Lightning has gone by a gauntlet of groups to make it again to the Ultimate, however they’ve but to face a crew as deep and proficient because the Avalanche. Which one will maintain extra water because the collection progresses?

No crew defends like Tampa Bay does, signified by the actual fact they shut down the 2 top-scoring offenses within the NHL in back-to-back rounds (Toronto and Florida). Toronto managed to power the Lightning right into a observe meet early of their collection, however because the collection dragged on, the Maple Leafs’ offense dried up once they wanted it most. Towards Florida, the Lightning placed on a clinic—holding the Presidents’ Trophy winners to a few targets in 4 video games.

The Avalanche are deep at ahead and are not afraid of high-scoring video games—they thrive in them. Colorado was the fourth highest-scoring offense throughout the common season and has leveraged that in each collection as they’ve outscored their defensive and goaltending issues in opposition to the likes of Nashville, St. Louis, and Edmonton. Nevertheless, they’ve but to face a crew as cohesive and resilient because the Lightning, and it will be fascinating to see how Colorado handles adversity on this collection as a result of Tampa Bay will make them struggle for each inch of ice.

Conversely, the Lightning hasn’t confronted a crew as deep or quick as Colorado. To make issues much more fascinating, the Avalanche have upped their scoring much more throughout the postseason. Vasilevskiy would be the most important issue if Tampa Bay can decelerate Colorado’s offensive onslaught.

The Backside Line

Regardless when you’re a seasoned NHL fan or somebody who’s by no means watched a single hockey recreation in your life, it is a collection you can not afford to overlook. These are the 2 greatest groups within the NHL, and so they have been for a very long time. Tampa Bay is the gold commonplace, the two-time champion in search of a three-peat. Colorado has dominated the common season however hasn’t gotten over the hump to plant their flag atop hockey’s mountaintop of nice groups. Now, they’ve that likelihood.

When it is all stated and finished, this collection is more likely to go down in historical past as one of the vital electrical and entertaining Stanley Cup Finals in current reminiscence.

This is hoping it goes to seven!

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