NHL - US Sports: Stanley Cup - Game One Preview
The Tampa Bay Lightning and Colorado Avalanche will go head-to-head in the best-of-seven Stanley Cup Final which begins with Game 1 in Denver on Wednesday.
Tampa Bay are 4.25 to win the Cup for a third season in a row, with Colorado 1.23 to deny them and lift their first championship since 2001.
What: Tampa Bay Lightning vs. Colorado Avalanche, Stanley Cup Final Game 1
Where: Ball Arena, Denver
When: 01:00, Wednesday 15th June, 2022
How to watch: Premier Sports or Sports Live Streaming
Odds: TB Lightning 2.25, COL Avalanche 1.68
Lightning look to make history
The Lightning have won an incredible 11 straight play-off series dating back to 2019 and are seeking to become the first team since the New York Islanders to win three consecutive titles. The Islanders captured four straight championships from 1980 to 1983
Tampa Bay head into the opening game of the Final high in confidence on the back of four straight victories against the New York Rangers to win the Eastern Conference, having dropped the first two games.
Rest vs. Rust
The Lightning began the series against the Rangers with nine days of rest, while the Rangers started right after a long seven-game series win over the Carolina Hurricanes.
Self-admittedly, Tampa Bay started slowly, before finding their game and taking over.
The two-time defending champions will play Game 1 of the Final following just three days away from game action, which is likely to suit them, while the Avalanche have been forced to take eight days off after sweeping the Edmonton Oilers in the Western Conference Final.
Rust, however, has been less of an issue for Colorado, who have won all three Game 1's in their play-off run, including in the second round against the St. Louis Blues following eight days off. They have played 14 games on their run to the Final, while the Lighting have had 17.
The Lightning have lost Game 1 in two of the three series that they have played so far, in the first round and Conference final.
Pressure off Avalanche
After breaking several franchise records in recent regular seasons, expectations have continued to rise for the Avalanche, whose consecutive three exits at the second-round stage became more and more infuriating for their star-studded line-up.
That hump has now been overcome, beating the Blues in a hard-fought six games series with moments where past demons may have caught up with them, no more so than in Game 5 which they lost 5-4 after leading 3-0 and with less than three minutes to go.
Avs have goalie decision
Number one netminder Darcy Kuemper has been missing for the Avalanche since Game 1 of the Western Conference Final. Back-up Pavel Francouz went 3-0 after replacing him and is 6-0 over the whole play-off campaign, giving coach Jared Bednar a big decision to make.
Kuemper is 6-2 with a .897 save-percentage and 2.65 goals-against average (GAA) in 10 play-off games. Francouz, the same age, is a better 6-0 with a .906 save percentage and 2.86 GAA in six games (four starts).
No decision is needed for the Lightning, who unquestionably have a significant advantage in net.
Andrei Vasilevskiy has played every minute of Tampa Bay's 17 post-season games with a .928 save-percentage and 2.27 GAA.
The perennial big-game performer has recorded jaw-dropping numbers over the past three post-season campaigns and won the Conn Smythe Trophy as the most valuable player in the play-offs last season.
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Avalanche have home ice advantage
Colorado won the Central Division in the regular season (56-19-7) and will enjoy home ice advantage for Game 1 and the overall Stanley Cup Final. The Lightning finished third in the Atlantic Division (51-23-8).
The Avalanche won each game between the two teams in the regular season, 4-3 in a shoot-out at Tampa Bay's Amalie Arena in October, before winning 3-2 at Ball Arena in Colorado four months later.
Colorado are respectably 5-2-0 at home in the play-offs, but incredibly also undefeated on the road - going 7-0-0.
The Lightning hold a 4-4-0 road record in the play-offs this season. At home, they have won their last seven games, breaking their team record set last season (7-1-0 overall).
Point return expected
Both the Lightning and Avalanche have been forced to play without key pieces of their line-ups, with others stepping up in each case to help them reach the Final.
The most influential returnee though is likely to be Tampa Bay's Brayden Point, who has been the overall top-scorer in the play-offs in each of the last two campaigns.
Point has been out since Game 7 of the first-round with a lower-body injury. He had four points (two goals, two assists) in the seven games that he managed to play.
Although the Lighting are 8-2 without Point, his return would provide a major boost which Jon Cooper says is "extremely probable", though he admitted it might not be in time for Game 1.
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