NHL Stanley Cup Finals Preview: Avalanche vs. Lightning

We really got an incredible matchup for the Stanley Cup Finals this season, one that’s arguably what most hockey fans want to see. The top team in the NHL in the Colorado Avalanche making the Cup Finals with incredible talent in Nathan MacKinnon and Cale Makar. This will be the Avs first Cup appearance since 2001 when Patrick Roy, Ray Bourque, Joe Sakic and Peter Forsberg lifted Lord Stanley, beating Marty Broudour and the Devils in seven games. They’re going up against the back to back Stanley Cup Champion Tampa Bay Lightning looking to etch their legacy as the first team to three-peat and lift Lord Stanley since the 1980-1983 Islanders won four in a row. 

The Avalanche were an incredible team this season and one of the best in hockey, finishing the regular season with a 56-19-17 that locked up first place in the Western Conference pretty quickly and came just short of winning the President’s Trophy behind the Florida Panthers. They went an impressive 32-5-4 at home. Statistically, the Avs were a very good team through the regular season on both ends of the ice. They scored an average of 3.76 goals per game, fourth most in the NHL and they had the fourth most shots, an average of 35 per game. They have the seventh most efficient power play in the NHL, converting on 24% of their chances. Colorado improved their goaltending in the offseason bringing in Darcy Kuemper. Kuemper was very good this season for them with a 2.54 GAA, .921 save percentage and five shutouts. The Avs allowed an average of just 2.83 goals per game, tenth fewest in the NHL. Colorado took the twelfth most penalties in the NHL and had a 79.7% penalty kill percentage.

The Avs have the fewest losses in the playoffs (2) to reach the Stanley Cup Finals since the 2003 Anaheim Ducks and are only the 15th team in NHL history (since 1987 when all series became seven games) to get to the Finals with only two losses. They’ve run through the playoffs pretty easily to get to this point. After they cruised through the first round, pretty easily sweeping the Nashville Predators, the Avs struggled a bit more in the second round against the Blues but still beat them out in six games. That was a very fun series.

Colorado was the dominant team in the Western Conference Finals, sweeping Connor McDavid, Leon Draisaitl and the Oilers to advance to their first Stanley Cup Finals since 01. I had pretty much expected close to that result, but pretty impressive to see how the Avs did it. In Game 1 Colorado was dominant from the start, getting out to a 7-3 lead in the second period before the Oilers came back and made it a 7-6 game with a little over seven minutes remaining in the game before Gabriel Landeskog got an empty netter with 22 seconds left in the game to seal it off with an 8-6 win. That game saw starting goalie Darcy Kuemper get hurt and not return to the game. He was out for Game 2, but backup Pavel Francouz came up huge getting a 4-0 win with Nazim Kadri assisting on three goals within 2:04 in the second period. Heading to Edmonton for Game 3, the Avs put the Oilers on the brink of elimination with another dominant 4-2 win. Game 4 was the best game of the series and was quite competitive. The Oilers had both a 3-1 and 4-2 lead in the game and blew both of those. With the Avalanche scoring three straight goals in the third period, they took a 5-4 lead with 5:13 remaining in regulation but that didn’t last long with Zach Kassian scoring to force overtime less than two minutes later. The Avalanche went onto eliminate Edmonton just 1:19 into overtime on a goal from Arthur Lehkonen on a redirect from a great shot from the point from none other than Cale Makar. Francouz started Game 4 as well, but Kuemper was healthy enough to back him up in that game and is probable to start tonight for Game 1 of the Cup Finals.

The Avalanche are leading the playoffs in scoring, averaging 4.64 goals per game with an 11.4% shooting percentage. They’ve generated a ton of shots, an average of 

40.71 per game. Colorado’s offense has been lead by defenseman Cale Makar with 22 points and 17 assists in their 14 games and making a big impact on both ends of the ice. Leading the Avs in goals is Nathan MacKinnon, the face of the franchise who has 18 points and eleven goals in these playoffs. The Avs power play has been very good, scoring on 31.1% of their chances. Their penalty kill has killed off 75.7% of their penalties and added to that with a shorthanded goal. Colorado has allowed an average 

of 2.86 goals per game on an average of of 28.21 shots on goal per game. Darcy Kuemper has a 2.65 GAA and .897 save percentage in his ten games in the playoffs and some of the goals he’s allowed have been pretty soft, so I don’t have a ton of confidence in him.

The Tampa Bay Lightning find themselves in their third straight Stanley Cup Finals out of the Eastern Conference, looking to three peat and win the Cup once again. 

The Bolts had a solid regular season this year, ending in third place in the Atlantic Division for the regular season with a 41-23-8 record. They had a great stretch to close the regular season, winning seven of their last nine games going into the playoffs, many of them in blowouts, scoring an average of 5.66 goals per game in their last six games of the regular season. They rode that momentum into the most important time of the season in the playoffs. Over the course of the regular season, Tampa’s offense took a slight step back this season after the last two years, but they still were very good, averaging 3.48 goals per game, seventh most in the NHL. They were very efficient in their shooting, generating an average of 29.8 shots per game but having a third best in the NHL 11.2% shooting percentage. The Lightning power play, scoring on 23.9% of those opportunities, eighth most in the NHL. Defensively Tampa has been very good this season as well. They’ve allowed a sixth fewest in the NHL average of 2.78 goals per game and a seventh fewest average of 29.8 shots per game. Andrei Vasilevskiy’s one of the best goalies in the NHL and has a 2.49 GAA and .916 save percentage. The Bolts were one of the most penalized teams in hockey this season with the second most penalty minutes in the NHL but their penalty kill was good, ranking eleventh in the NHL, killing off 80.6% of those penalties and scoring seven shorthanded goals.

The Lightning matched up with the Maple Leafs in the first round, winning the series in seven games to advance. That was an awesome series that turned out to be one of the best of the first round. The Leafs were a tough matchup for the Bolts in the first round but the back to back Cup Champs held them off with the playoff experience and ability to bounce back incredibly from losses. I expected the second round Battle of Florida to be just as good, but I was wrong on that one as Tampa dismantled their rival Panthers and swept them. Florida won the President’s Trophy with the best record of the regular season with an incredible offense that lead the NHL. That was no match for Andrei Vasilevskiy’s play in goal though. One of the best goalies in NHL playoff history didn’t allow more than a goal in any games of the series, limiting the Panthers to three total goals in four games.

Tampa faced the New York Rangers in the Eastern Conference Finals, a goaltending battle for the ages between Vasilevskiy and this season’s guaranteed Vezina winner in Igor Shesterkin. I cashed in pretty big on this series, riding the Lightning and betting unders every game, which hit in every game besides Game 1. Nine days of rest between the second and third round for the Lightning after sweeping their in state rival Panthers proved to leave the Bolts quite rusty going into the Conference Finals. In Game 1, the Rangers came out hot in this series, winning 6-2 in a dominant game at home in MSG. The Lightning have been incredible in the playoffs over the last three years bouncing back from losses, but their streak of 18 straight playoff wins after a loss came to an end in Game 2 in New York with the Rangers winning 3-2 on great goaltending and a great defensive game to put the champs down 2-0 for the first time since that 2019 first round when they got swept by Columbus. When the series shifted to Tampa Bay for Game 3, the entire series changed though. The Lightning poured it on with 52 shots and dominated Game 3 and if it wasn’t for Igor’s incredible game in goal, the game would’ve been a huge blowout but the Bolts ended up winning 3-2 on Ondrej Palat’s game winning with just 42 seconds remaining in regulation. That game winner was the only even strength goal of the game for either team. The Bolts never looked back after that game and they drained everything out of New York in Games 4 where they won 4-1 at home, 3-1 in MSG in Game 5 and 2-1 to close out the series at home in Game 6. They only allowed one goal five on five through those three games and Andrei Vasilevskiy and the Lightning defense shined. 

Through their three rounds of the playoffs, the Lightning have scored an average of 3.06 goals per game with a 9.4% shooting percentage on an average of 32.47 shots per game. Their scoring has been lead by Nikita Kucherov, who has 23 points and 16 assists in these playoffs. Captain Steven Stamkos leads the Bolts in goals with nine including both goals in the Eastern Conference Finals clinching game last Saturday against the Rangers. Their power play has scored at a 22.6% clip. The Bolts penalty kill has been very good, killing off 82.5% and scoring a short handed goal. The Lightning have allowed an average of just 2.46 goals per game and have allowed an average of 31.94 shots per game. Andrei Vasilevskiy has been fantastic, just as he has the last two years with a 2.27 GAA and .928 save percentage with a shutout.

This series puts incredible offense for the Avalanche and the best team in hockey up against incredible goaltending from Andrei Vasilevskiy and great all around play from the back to back champ Lightning. A lot of the last few years we have seen some teams running hot make runs to the Cup Finals so its exciting that we finally get the two best teams in hockey and the best matchup we could have imagined to determine who gets to lift the most coveted trophy in all of sports.

These cross conference teams played twice during the regular season and the Avs won both of those matchups by a goal. Early in the season in a great game on October 23rd in Tampa, the Avalanche needed a Cale Makar winner in the six round of a shootout to win 4-3 on the road. On February 10th, the Avs got a 3-2 regulation win at home in another competitive game that saw 85 total shots on goal.

I think this ends up being a fantastic and competitive series with lots of close games. The games that tend to trend over, I’d expect the Avalanche to win and the games that trend under and end up being defensive grinds, I think the Lightning win. I like this series to go at least six if not seven games and I will take the series to go over 5.5 games for 3 units. I do think the Avalanche are the better and more well rounded team in the series though and ultimately end up taking the crown from the back to back Cup Champs with Nathan MacKinnon finally getting his Stanley Cup. I will take the Avs to win the Stanley Cup for 2 units. I considered also taking both Makar and MacKinnon to win the Conn Smythe, but I just don’t see enough value in it since one of those futures would end up losing. 

Although I think the Avs win this series, I think they come out with some rust in Game 1 tonight like the Lightning did in Game 1 of the Eastern Conference Finals. I will take the Lightning TT over 2.5 for a unit and hope that the Avalanche end up winning while still giving up at least 3 goals. 

Series Bets

3u Avalanche/Lightning over 5.5 games (-150)

2u Avalanche (-165)

Game 1 Bets

1u Lightning TT over 2.5 (-141)

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