The Stanley Cup Final begins Wednesday night when the Colorado Avalanche take on the Tampa Bay Lightning for Lord Stanley.
Colorado looks to squash Tampa Bay’s dreams of a three-peat after sweeping the Edmonton Oilers from the Western Conference Final. The Avs certainly have rest on their side, considering the Lightning needed six games to knock off the New York Rangers, but there’s no denying the Bolts have the talent to raise their third Stanley Cup in as many seasons.
The Avalanche took the season series from the Lightning in the two games they faced off against one another and narrowly outscored Tampa Bay 7-5.
It certainly will be a battle between these two teams. Here are four things to know before Wednesday’s puck drop for Game 1.
Avalanche are an offensive wagon
The Avs went 1-6-0 in their final seven games of the regular season, but it’s clear that was just a fluke. If you look at Colorado’s series against the Oilers, you’ll notice that Edmonton’s offensive numbers weren’t all that bad.
In fact, Connor McDavid and company did enough on paper that they should have beat the Avs and won the series, but Colorado is just that good.
Edmonton’s goalie situation in Mike Smith didn’t put it over the edge, but it certainly held its own against Colorado.
Cale Makar will be difficult to stop
Makar has been an X-factor throughout the Stanley Cup playoffs for the Avalanche, notching 10 points in their sweep of the Nashville Predators in the first round and five in the Western Conference final against the Oilers. The Avalanche defenseman has 22 points in 14 playoff games and is a speedy skater who just seems to be able to find an open teammate with his eyes closed to help with a goal. The Lightning are a strong team that shut down Mika Zibanejad — who was one of the best players for the Rangers throughout their playoff series — with ease, but Makar will be a big test for them and the Bolts will need a plan to make sure he doesn’t put up double-digit points in the Cup Final.
Goaltending will decide this series
Seems obvious, but when you have two strong offensive and defensive teams, they will need their goalie to steal a game or two. There’s no denying Andrei Vasilevskiy’s talent and what he brings to the Bolts, but the 2019 Vezina Trophy winner did not look alive between the pipes for Tampa Bay’s first two games against New York. Vasilevskiy did a complete 180 en route to the Lightning winning the next four games, but one has to wonder if fatigue will set in.
At the other end of the ice is Darcy Kuemper, who missed most of the Western Conference final after sustaining an injury in Game 1. Avs general manager Joe Sakic told reporters Kuemper is 100% healthy ahead of the Stanley Cup Final. Pavel Francouz filled in nicely for Kuemper and it’s unclear just who will start Game 1 on Wednesday night.
There’s no doubt Kuemper and Francouz are rested with the Avs’ last game being played June 6, but regardless of who starts for Colorado, they will need to bring their best game to beat a team like the Lightning.
Rest vs. rust
The Lightning will go just three days between games while the Avalanche will go eight. Colorado is no stranger to long layoffs with having to wait seven days from Game 4 against Nashville to Game 1 against the St. Louis Blues (which the Avs won in overtime and outshot the Blues 54-25).
The Lightning, meanwhile, waited eight days to play again after sweeping the Florida Panthers in the second round before losing their first two against New York. Might we see the Avalanche fall victim to something similar? Will the Bolts carry the momentum into Game 1 or will the rest play in Colorado’s favor?
It’s going to be an entertaining series from start to finish that either will end with the Lightning doing something that hasn’t been done in nearly 40 years, when the New York Islanders won three straight Stanley Cups, or the Avalanche winning their first Cup since 2001.