The 2022 Stanley Cup Finals is now here. The Tampa Bay Lightning have vanquished Our Hated Rivals. The Colorado Avalanche swept the Edmonton
McDavids Oilers. As requested by the People Who Matter, this is an open post for the finals themselves.
As much as I would love to see Our Favorite Team, the New Jersey Devils, back in the Finals, I encourage you to watch this series. Like a lot of things in business and pastimes, people emulate success. In the NHL, winning the Cup is the ultimate goal. Whoever wins it will inspire other organizations to takeaway lessons from the winners. Whether they will learn the right lessons is another matter. (Hint for Tom Fitzgerald: It isn’t size.)
I also encourage you to watch the Stanley Cup Finals as the vast majority of the series in recent years have been excellent. From the intensity to the drama to the emotion to the pace, it truly has it all. This year’s Finals between the Avalanche and Lightning has the makings of being really special given the amount of talent involved. Even if you do not want to comment here about it, please watch this year’s Stanley Cup Finals. Here are the details to know for this open post:
The Schedule & Broadcast Information: Thanks to Tampa Bay taking care of business on Saturday night, the series starts tonight on Wednesday:
- Game 1, June 15: Tampa Bay at Colorado - 8 PM ET. TV: ABC, CBC, SN, TVAS, Digital: ESPN+
- Game 2, June 18: Tampa Bay at Colorado - 8 PM ET. TV: ABC, CBC, SN, TVAS, Digital: ESPN+
- Game 3, June 20: Colorado at Tampa Bay - 8 PM ET. TV: ABC, CBC, SN, TVAS, Digital: ESPN+
- Game 4, June 22: Colorado at Tampa Bay - 8 PM ET. TV: ABC, CBC, SN, TVAS, Digital: ESPN+
- Game 5, June 24: Tampa Bay at Colorado - 8 PM ET. TV: ABC, CBC, SN, TVAS, Digital: ESPN+
- Game 6, June 26: Colorado at Tampa Bay - 8 PM ET. TV: ABC, CBC, SN, TVAS, Digital: ESPN+
- Game 7, June 28: Tampa Bay at Colorado - 8 PM ET. TV: ABC, CBC, SN, TVAS, Digital: ESPN+
Games 5, 6, and 7 will only take place if they are necessary. This is a best of seven series.
Representing the East, The Defending Champions: Here is a short preview of both teams. Starting first with the Defending Champions.
Tampa Bay was seen as a contending team since last Fall. And why not? They won the cup in 2020 and 2021. While they finished third in the Atlantic, very few doubted their quality as they went 51-23-8, earning 110 points. The core was still in tact: Andrei Vasilevskiy was the man in the net. Victor Hedman continued to run an effective blueline. The offense had no shortage of talent from Steven Stamkos to Nikita Kucherov to Brayden Point with loads of help from Alex Killorn, Anthony Cirelli, Ondrej Palat (who is having a heck of a playoff), Corey Perry, Ross Colton, and Patrick Maroon. The Bolts were a good 5-on-5 team with a productive power play and a solid penalty kill in this season. In other words, they were a well-rounded team with loads of experience. Always a sign of a contender.
The Lightning would have no easy path to the Finals. They had to go through the grinder that was the Eastern Conference to get to the Finals for the third straight season. Finishing third in the Atlantic meant a series with Toronto, who had an excellent season and needed a playoff series win in the worst way possible. After a 5-0 shutout loss, the Lightning and Leafs went back and forth. The Lightning salvaged the series with a Point OT winner in Game 6. In Game 7 in Toronto, Nick Paul’s brace was enough for the 2-1 win and the series win. While the Lightning won, Point was lost due to a leg injury.
The Lightning’s reward was a series against their cross-state rivals: the Florida Panthers. The Panthers won the President’s Trophy and have done amazing things all season long, including multiple multi-goal comebacks in for wins. Heated as it got, the Lightning never let the Panthers have a sniff in the series. They allowed 3 goals in 4 games in a sweep of Florida: 4-1 in Game 1, 2-1 in Game 2, 5-1 in Game 3, and 2-0 in Game 4. Credit Maroon for the series winning goal, the first goal in Game 4. Credit Palat for sealing it with an ENG.
The Lightning got to relax a bit as they waited who came out of the Metropolitan Division. The result: the New York Rangers. A team driven by Igor Shesterkin, Igor Shesterkin, power plays, Igor Shesterkin, counter-attacking, puck luck, Jacob Trouba’s elbow, and Igor Shesterkin. It seemed that the Rangers had the Lightning’s number with a 6-2 loss in Game 1 and a closer 3-2 loss in Game 2. Going down two games and looking lethargic in stretches are a bad sign. But the Lightning have dealt with bad playoff situations before - even back in May against Toronto. Tampa Bay picked up an important Game 3 win with an equalizer by Stamkos and a last-minute winner by Palat to win 3-2. Game 4 was more decisive with a 4-1 result with the 1 coming too late to do anything. The tied series returned to Manhattan. Once again, it was tight and, once again, Ondrej Palat was the hero with a tie-breaking goal with less than two minutes left. The 3-1 win set up a clincher in Tampa Bay in Game 6. Then, franchise legend Stamkos became the hero. He scored first and again, within a minute of New York’s long goal, to put the Lightning up 2-1. Shesterkin may have played out of his mind, but Vasilevskiy is no joke in the net and he and the Bolts held on. The Lightning won the series 4-2, their fifteenth straight series win since being swept by Columbus in 2019. The last two without Point, who could make a comeback in this series. The Lightning are on the verge of three-peating. That would be the first time any team did it in the NHL since the 1983 (the Islanders’ four straight Cups: 1980-1983). Only one team stands in their way. And they are hungry, fresh, and ready for it.
Representing the West, the Challengers: The Colorado Avalanche have become a favorite to contend for hardware in recent seasons. While not as solidly built on paper, they just rack up goals, wins, more goals, and more wins. The Avalanche absolutely dominated the regular season with a 56-19-7 record for 119 points, second only to Florida. This included a mind-bogglingly fantastic 32-5-4 home record. Multiple Hart finalist Nathan MacKinnon, Mikko Rantanen, Nazem Kadri, Gabriel Landeskog, and Andre Burakovsky lead a dangerous and deep group of forwards. Cale Makar is arguably the best defenseman in the world and the Avs also have Devon Toews, who has emerged . Darcy Kuemper and Pavel Francouz have been quite good as well. Like the Lightning, they were a good 5-on-5 team in the season. As well as potent on the power play. They were around league median in terms of PK success, but their bigger concern has been experience. Colorado has not been past the second round of the playoffs since the early 2000s. As frighteningly talented as the Avs were in the season, that fact caused some doubt about how far they could go. In other words, the 56-win Avalanche legitimately had something to prove.
The first step was a first round match-up with Nashville. Nashville’s success was going to be driven by Jusse Saros - who got hurt before the playoffs. The Avalanche showed little mercy. They crushed them 7-2 in Game 1. The only close game was in Game 2, where Makar broke the deadlock in overtime for a 2-1 win. The two games in Nashville: 7-3 for Colorado and 5-3 for Colorado. Game 4 was the only game where Nashville had a lead at all - and that lasted for less than five minutes when Toews tied it up. Valeri Nichushkin got the series winner and MacKinnon ended it all with an empty-netter. Job done. But the real issue was the second round for so many years. Can this be the one where they take another step?
The second step was against St. Louis. This series became nasty. From Jordan Binnington getting hurt after a Blue pushed Kadri into him to Blues fans racially harassing Kadri to Binnington’s post-game bottle-throw to enough beef to feed a large family. In terms of the games, the series had some back and forth. Josh Manson won Game 1 in OT for Colorado, 3-2. St. Louis responded with a 4-1 win in Denver, led by a sterling performance by Binnington. Game 3 was the one where Binnington was knocked out of the series; the Avs piled 5 past Ville Husso to win 5-2. Game 4 featured Kadri racking up a hat trick in a 6-3 win to beat the Blues and to make the bigots gnash their teeth. Up 3-1 in the series, it went back to Denver. There, the Blues pulled off a three-goal third period, a last-minute Robert Thomas equalizer, and an overtime win thanks to Tyler Bozak. Would the Avs crumble as they were so close to getting beyond the second round? No. Tight as it was, the Avs would prevail in Game 6. A delay of game call led to J.T. Compher scoring his second goal of the game on the power play to tie up the game. Overtime seemed inevitable until Darren Helm - yes, the Darren Helm - put home a goal with six seconds left. That made it a 3-2 win for Colorado. A heartbreaking loss for St. Louis in their own house. A ghost buster victory for Colorado on the road. They were onto the Western Conference Finals.
The third step was against the Edmonton Oilers. A team that prevailed in the Battle of Alberta. A team led by the best player in the world in Connor McDavid. A team with the ruthless Leon Draisaitl, the speedy Zach Hyman, and a hot Evander Kane. The Oilers had questions behind them all season and playoffs long. But get them in a scoring race, and they could win it. At least, until this series. Game 1 was absolutely bonkers with how many and how fast the goals came. And how close Edmonton came to a comeback. But the Avs held on (??) with an 8-6 win. And lost Darcy Kuemper again to injury. Game 2 was not as close. Not at all. Colorado just crushed Edmonton with a 4-0 win. Pavel Francouz was no slouch in the net. The series going to Edmonton did not change much. While McDavid scored 38 seconds into Game 3, the Avs responded with a double by Nichushkin. When Edmonton tied it up in the third, Compher put the Avs up again. An ENG made it a 4-2 win and put the Oilers on the brink of being swept. (Aside: Kadri was injured in this game and is likely still out.) Which is what happened in Game 4. This one was wild. And ultimately hurtful for the home fans. Makar scored first. In the second period, the Oilers scored three times to go up 3-1. They then got to see Edmonton choke that lead in the third period. Toews made it 3-2. Hyman made it 4-2 later. Then Landeskog, MacKinnon, and Rantanen scored the next three to make it 5-4. Minutes away from elimination, Zack Kassian was able to get one by Francouz for force OT. Overtime would not provide much respite. At just 1:19 into the fourth period, Artturi Lehkonen put it home to end the game, end the series - with a sweep, and send the Avs to the Finals.
The Matchup, in Brief: You have the “old” guys in Tampa Bay with loads of experience in the past and surviving not just one, but two bad series situations to get here. You have the “new” guys in Colorado, who are 12-2 in the postseason so far and swept two teams on their way here. You can go man for man in the matchups. Stamkos vs. MacKinnon. Kucherov vs. Rantanen. Hedman vs. Makar. The most important one is in the crease. While Shesterkin put in a masterclass performance on his own, Vasilevskiy is considered one of the best goalies in the world for a reason. He locked it down against a super-high scoring Florida team and helped ensure the Lightning win four straight against New York after going down two in that series. Even if Darcy Kuemper is back, I’m not sure I can favor Colorado’s goalies short of them getting hot. Francouz has been good, but that Edmonton series needed Colorado’s attack to go off the chain twice in that sweep. A Lightning team that plays a lot tighter and more structured than Edmonton is not likely going to yield those games.
The (Faint) Devils Connections: The Avalanche are the team in 2001 that denied the Devils back-to-back Cups. As much as I hated it then, it has been over 20 years. I’m over it. You probably are too. The Avs do have Ryan Murray (out since March with a fractured wrist) and Mikhail Maltsev (no games played in the playoffs; 18 played in the season with zero points) so there is that.
The Lightning are the last team the Devils played in the playoffs, as the Lightning eliminated them in five games back in 2018. Maybe you are still salty about that; although I do not think many expected a Devils win in that match-up. Maroon, who was a part of that 2018 Devils team, opted to go to St. Louis than take a more lucrative deal in New Jersey. He won a Cup there. Maroon then signed with Tampa Bay. He won 2 and now could get a third. The Lightning also have Frederik Claesson, who has played 9 games for the Bolts this season and had a very brief time in New Jersey.
The Be Wrong, Be Strong Prediction: Lightning in 6. Commence the Dynasty discussions. Which are warranted as the Lightning winning 3 Cups with both a salary cap and a flat salary cap for three straight seasons is a masterstroke of management. Even getting to 3 straight Finals is an achievement.
If I am wrong, then I am wrong. Our Hated Rivals were eliminated so I am OK with whoever winning it all.
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