NHL - US Sports: Stanley Cup Final 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 night.
Tampa Bay are 4.25 to win the Cup for a third season in a row and Colorado 1.23 to deny them and lift their first championship since 2001.
What: Tampa Bay Lightning vs. Colorado Avalanche, Stanley Cup Finals Game 1
Where: Ball Arena, Denver
When: 20:00 ET, Thursday 16th June, 2022
How to watch: Premier Sport or bet365's Sports Live Streaming
Lightning looking to make history
If the Lightning were to be successful they would 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 have won 11 straight playoffs series, this season knocking out the Toronto Maple Leafs, Florida Panthers and the New York Rangers. The last team to make the Stanley Cup Final in three straight seasons was the Edmonton Oilers from 1983-84.
It's an achievement for the Lightning that captain Steven Stamkos doesn't want to dwell on just yet, saying to the media: "It's going to be tough to get out of the moment and look back and realize what a special group we have here because there's still some games to be played and we're still not at the end of our goal. But in saying that, this group is pretty amazing, pretty special."
Avalanche over the hump
Colorado have eliminated the Nashville Predators, St. Louis Blues and Edmonton Oilers on their post-season run which has seen them overcome a second-round hump where they were eliminated in each of the past three seasons.
The Avalanche won each game between the two teams in the regular season, 4-3 in a shoot-out at Amalie Arena in October before winning 3-2 at Ball Arena four months later.
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Each team have had significant contributions from their star players and hailed the depth of their rosters throughout the playoffs.
Superstar forward Nikita Kucherov leads the Lightning for points for a third straight playoff campaign with 23 (seven goals, 16 assists) in 17 games. Captain Stamkos has scored the most goals with nine in 17 appearances.
Dynamic defenceman Cale Makar has the most points for the Avalanche with 22 (five goals, 17 assists) in 14 games. Forward Nathan MacKinnon leads the way for goals with 11 in 14 games.
Both the Lightning and Avalanche have been forced to play without key pieces of their line-up with others stepping up in each case to help them reach the showcase final.
Tampa Bay and the overall playoffs' top goal-scorer in each of the last two campaigns Brayden 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. His return for the final is said to be "extremely probable" by coach Jon Cooper.
Colorado forwards Nazem Kadri (six goals, eight assists in 13 games) and Andrew Cogliano (two goals, one assist in 11 games) have both been forced to undergo surgery following injuries sustained against the Edmonton Oilers in the Western Conference Final. Each could be back "at some point" in the Final according to coach Jared Bednar.
Defenceman Sam Girard has missed the entirety of the playoffs, but the biggest challenge overcome by the Avalanche was the loss of number-one netminder Darcy Kuemper. Back-up Pavel Francouz went 3-0 after replacing Kuemper for Game 1 of the Western Conference Final. Kuemper returned to back-up Francouz for Game 4 and is in contention to start in the Final.
Coach Bednar said of his teams "next-up" mentality: "You want to control what you can control in all situations. You have to move on and look at your options. Everyone else has to be ready to go.... That's been our mentality. We've learned that over the last few years. Guys have done a great job staying focused and ready to perform."
Netminding will be key
32-year-old Kuemper is 6-2 with a .897 save-percentage and 2.65 goals-against average (GAA) in 10 playoff games. Francouz, the same age, is 6-0 with a .906 save percentage and 2.86 GAA in six games (four starts).
27-year-old 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 won the Conn Smythe Trophy as the most valuable player in the playoffs last season.
Avalanche enjoy home ice advantage
Colorado won the Central Division in the regular season (56-19-7) and will have home ice advantage for the Stanley Cup Final. The Lightning finished third in the Atlantic Division (51-23-8).
The Lightning are 4-4-0 on the road in the playoffs this season. At home, they have won their last seven games, breaking their team record set last season (7-1-0 overall). Colorado are 5-2-0 at home and remarkably undefeated on the road going 7-0-0.
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