NHL - US Sports: Avs quash Lightning three-peat dreams
The Colorado Avalanche won their third Stanley Cup and first since 2001 with a 2-1 victory in Game 6 of this season’s Final against the Tampa Bay Lightning.
In closing out the best-of-seven series 4-2, the Avalanche denied the Lightning a historic three-peat.
Past disappointment drove Avalanche
Colorado went 16-4 in the playoffs sweeping the Nashville Predators and Edmonton Oilers and beating the St. Louis Blues and Lightning in six games.
The Avalanche learned through disappointment of being eliminated at the second-round stage for three straight seasons, during which despite questions about their championship pedigree, their self-belief never waned.
Colorado stars rewarded for self-belief
For ten seasons Gabriel Landeskog has been the Captain of Colorado and his joy to hoist the cup with Erik Johnson, the longest-tenured member of the team (12 seasons) was clear to see.
The pair passed the cherished prize on to forward Nathan MacKinnon and defenceman Cale Makar who were the stars of the post-season run.
MacKinnon, a first-overall pick of the Avalanche in 2013, led the team in goals (13) and with 11 assists his 24 points were third on the team.
Makar, also a first round (fourth-overall) selection in 2017, amassed the most points with 29 (eight goals, 21 assists). He led all defenceman in the playoffs for points and was third of all skaters behind Edmonton Oilers duo Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl.
The 23-year-old was named the Conn Smythe Trophy winner as the most valuable player of the post-season, his second proud individual award in less than a week after he received the Norris Trophy as the NHL’s best defenceman.
Dynamic Makar played the most of all Avalanche player in the playoffs averaging 27.04 minutes per-game. In Game 4 in the Eastern Conference Final to complete the sweep over the Edmonton Oilers, Makar became the first defenceman in NHL history to register five points (one goal, four assists) in a series clinching game.
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In-season additions were crucial
In addition to their go-to players performing to their very best, the Avalanche were helped by several additions made ahead of the trade deadline by General Manager Joe Sakic.
Veteran forwards Darren Helm and Andrew Cogliano made significant contributions, as did rugged defenceman Josh Manson.
Artturi Lehkonen acquired from the Montreal Canadiens scored the Cup winning-goal which impressively was his fourth game-winner of the post-season.
Impressive road record
A particular proud statistic for the Avalanche was their road record in the post-season, losing a single game (Game 3 of the Final). They went 9-1 overall and closed out each series with a victory away from Ball Arena.
Over the playoffs, Colorado had a +30-goal difference, and averaged 4.25 goals-per-game. Their defence was also strong conceding just 2.75 goals-per-game.
Netminding remained consistent
32-year-old netminder Darcy Kuemper was well supported throughout the playoffs but also performed reliably posting a .902 save-percentage and 2.57 goals-against-average (GAA) in 16 games.
Also 32, back-up Pavel Francouz also played admirably when called upon to cover for the injured Kuemper with a .906 save-percentage and 2.81 GAA in seven appearances.
Powerplay a difference maker
Another large reason for the Avalanche’s success was their playoff leading powerplay which fired at an impressive 32.8% success rate.
Colorado are 5.25 to defend their crown in 2022/23.
Tampa vow to be back
On the other side, the Lightning were left disappointed after the defeat on Sunday as they failed in their bid to become the first team since the New York Islanders to win three straight championships. New York won four from 1980-83.
After playing 71 games over the past three post-seasons, coach Jon Cooper admitted the Lightning met their match in the Avalanche.
And despite his feeling of sadness, the 54-year-old couldn’t hide his pride for his players’ achievements with Captain Steven Stamkos vowing the Lightning will be back.
Under Cooper’s guidance, Tampa Bay had won 11 consecutive series in the Stanley Cup Playoffs, the third most in NHL history.
Tampa Bay are 11.00 to re-gain their championship in 2022/23.
Much change coming in the NHL
With the Curtain coming down on the 2021/22 NHL season, attention now turns to the NHL draft and an off-season which is likely to see much change of players and coaches around the league.
Already since the end of the regular season, there has been a carousel of coaching switches. Most notably the Presidents’ Trophy winning Florida Panthers have hired former Winnipeg Jets coach Paul Maurice to replace Andrew Brunette. Boston Bruins fired Bruce Cassidy who has been immediately snapped up by the Las Vegas Golden Knights.
Peter BeBoer who left the Golden Knights has been hired by the Dallas Stars who fired Rick Bowness.
And still, several teams including the New York Islanders Detroit Red Wings and Chicago Blackhawks are still without coaches bringing much intrigue to what will be a very different looking NHL when the puck drops again in October.
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