Stanley Cup Finals start tonight
Plus a Winnipeg brewery is trying to lure Barry Trotz to Jets with free beer for life
Teams by the Numbers
The higher-seeded (1st in the Central Division) Colorado Avalanche come into the 2022 Stanley Cup Final with a 12-2 record. They lead the 16 Playoff teams with a stunning 4.64 Goals For per Game Played (GF/GP) and rank 3rd in Goals Against per Game Played (GA/GP) at 2.86, resulting in a Playoff best Differential of +1.78 Goals per Game. In special teams, Colorado currently sits at 2nd in Power Play Percentage (PP%) at 31.1%, but ranks 10th in Penalty Kill Percentage (PK%) at 75.7%. One should also note that Colorado ranks 2nd in Shots per Game Played (Shots/GP) at 40.7 and 1st in Shots Against per Game Played (SA/GP) at 28.2, resulting in the best Shot Differential at +12.5.
The lower-seeded (3rd in the Atlantic Division) Tampa Bay Lightning come into the series with a 12-5 record. They rank 8th in GF/GP at 3.06 and 2nd in GA/GP at 2.41, resulting in the 2nd-best Differential of +0.65 Goals per Game. In special teams, Tampa currently sits 8th in PP% at 22.6% and 6th in PK% at 82.5%. Otherwise, Tampa averages 32.5 Shots/GP (7th) and 31.9 SA/GP (8th), resulting in a Shot Differential of +0.6 (8th).
Stats and Storylines
Colorado comes into the Final as the odds makers’ favorite to win the Stanley Cup, currently at around -175. Actually, in most or all cases, Colorado has been the favorite to win the entire year. After having lost in the Second Round in each of the past three Seasons, this is the franchise’s first visit to the Final since the Avalanche won their second Stanley Cup in 2000-01.
Nathan MacKinnon (11 Goals [G], 18 Points [P] in 14 Games Played [GP]) currently sits 2nd among active Forwards and 3rd among active Players in Points these Playoffs, as well as 1st among active Players in Goals. But even more impressive, Colorado star Defenseman Cale Makar (5 G, 22 P in 14 GP) currently sits 2nd among active Players and 1st among active Defensemen in Points. As a result of these performances, Makar is the odds favorite to win the Conn Smythe Trophy at +160 and MacKinnon is 2nd at +230.
Colorado faces issues with injuries to two key players: starting Goaltender Darcy Kuemper, who took a stick to the eye in Game Three against the Nashville Predators; and star forward Nazem Kadri, who had surgery on his thumb after being injured in Game Three against the Edmonton Oilers. Also, little known fact: It appears as though Kuemper was injured in the same eye back in 2019. While Kuemper is expected to return after having left Game One against the Oilers, Kadri is “unlikely to be available for the remainder of the postseason.” Can Colorado protect their Goaltender(s) and maintain their offensive productivity?
Tampa comes in as the underdog according to the odds makers, currently at around +155. Tampa has the chance to win their 3rd straight Stanley Cup, which was last accomplished by the New York Islanders in the early ‘80s (four straight Stanley Cups from 1980-83). Throughout these past three Seasons, Tampa’s core (Captain Stamkos et al.) has remained intact and been led by the highest-performing Head Coach in recent history (Jon Cooper). If Tampa can pull off a win this year, it’s certain that they’ll be the closest thing to a dynasty in the modern NHL.
Nikita Kucherov (7 G, 23 P in 17 GP) currently has the most Points among active Players in these Playoffs, Assistant Captain Victor Hedman (2 G, 14 P in 17 GP; Conn Smythe winner in 2020) sits 2nd among active Defensemen, and star Goaltender Andrei Vasilevskiy (Conn Smythe winner in 2021) has a stellar .928 Save Percentage. Currently, odds makers have Kucherov (approximately +360) and Vasilevskiy (approximately +400) as the Lightning players with the highest odds to win this year’s Conn Smythe Trophy.
Unlike Colorado’s likely absence of Kadri, Tampa is expecting star Forward Brayden Point to make a return to the lineup during the Final after having missed 10 Games (so far) due to injury. This should give the team a huge boost and increase the difficulty of line matchups for the Avalanche. But, do the Lightning have enough left in them after three long Seasons to beat out the juggernaut Avalanche?
Analysis and Predictions
Thomas Pepin (Pregame Skate Contributor)
Coming off of a nine-day break, I expect Colorado to come out flat. While we’ve established that time between series isn’t correlated with series success, it was nonetheless clear that less time off is better, especially with regards to Game One. Likewise, Tampa just came off of a tight, hard-fought series, while Colorado walked over the porous Edmonton Oilers. Pairing these momentum-related factors, I predict that Tampa will at least win one—but likely both—of Games One and Two.
In another two-part series, we showed how winning one or more of Games One and Two seems to have a relationship with winning a series. Given my preceding rationale and the results of this second study, I think it’ll be far too hard for Colorado to gain any sort of lead—let alone footing—in the series. While Colorado is an offensive powerhouse, Tampa’s no slouch, especially if (or when) they get Point back in the lineup. Conversely, Tampa has the clear advantage in net with Vasilevskiy versus an inexperienced (and unknown) starter for Colorado. Thus, if Colorado has to flip-flop with who’s starting—which we’ve also proven is a bad idea—they’re just going to dig themselves a bigger hole.
All things considered, I think the series starts with Tampa going up 2-0 in Colorado due to Tampa’s skill and momentum and (expected) bad goaltending from Colorado. Thereafter, Colorado is too strong not to win one of the next two Games, but I think Tampa will be up 3-1 after Game Four. Finally, with Tampa on a roll and Colorado struggling on numerous fronts, I’m predicting that Tampa’s skill and experience will allow them to shock the hockey world and close out the series in five for a threepeat.
Parker Milner (Editor)
As a former goaltender, I immediately look between the pipes. Looking back to the Avalanche’s series against the Oilers, it could have been a highly contested six or seven game battle had Mike Smith been more consistent. Or if the Oilers had been willing to give a younger netminder a chance earlier in the year. (That’s a conversation for another time and place.)
The Avalanche are highly skilled offensively, but they haven’t had to work for their goals during these playoffs, aside from the series against the Blues when former Stanley Cup champion Jordan Binnington was heating up.
A red hot Vasilevskiy would terrify me as an Avalanche fan, and you have to think Corey Perry will find the back of the net at least once or twice in this series. After all, he won’t lose in three straight Stanley Cup finals, will he?
I’m taking the Lightning.