The battle for Lord Stanley’s Cup:
Wow, just wow. The finals that casual and die-hard hockey fans alike were excited about the possibility of happening has come to fruition. The high-powered offense of the Colorado Avalanche against the stifling defense and goaltending of the Tampa Bay Lightning. Which matters more? In football it’s always been defense wins championships…but is it that clear in the NHL? Let’s take a look back at the last four finals years and preview this incredible battle that starts on Wednesday at 8 p.m. (EST) on ABC & ESPN+.
Goals for (scored) per game
2018: Washington Capitals 3.12 / Vegas Golden Knights 3.27
2019: St. Louis Blues 2.98 / Boston Bruins 3.13
2020: Tampa Bay Lightning 3.47 / Dallas Stars 2.58
2021: Tampa Bay Lightning 3.21 / Montreal Canadiens 2.82
2022: Tampa Bay Lightning 3.48 / Colorado Avalanche 3.76
Goals allowed (against) per game
2018: Washington Capitals 2.90 / Vegas Golden Knights 2.74
2019: St. Louis Blues 2.68 / Boston Bruins 2.59
2020: Tampa Bay Lightning 2.77 / Dallas Stars 2.52
2021: Tampa Bay Lightning 2.59 / Montreal Canadiens 2.95
2022: Tampa Bay Lightning 2.78 / Colorado Avalanche 2.83
In 2018 Vegas both scored more goals per game and allowed fewer goals per game during the regular season. How did Washington come out on top in that case? Fairly easily I might add, with a 4-1 series win. This seemed like a case of determination and will to win overcoming anything statistical. You’d be hard pressed to find someone happier than Alex Ovechkin after winning that cup. That was a whole summer bender that I’m sure he never wanted to end.
2019 saw a Boston team statistically better in goals scored per game and goals allowed per game…lose. How so? That postseason a little-known goaltender named Jordan Binnington caught lightning in a bottle and stole enough games for his squad to emerge victorious. A hot goalie can never be underestimated. Even when throwing water bottles during a postgame interview (Less classy, current and child-like version of Binnington). That’s what makes Vasilevskiy so scary to face. If he starts rolling, can the Avalanche overcome the Big Cat?
In 2020 Dallas relied HEAVILY on defense and goaltending to reach the finals. In the end it wasn’t enough as offense prevailed with Tampa taking the series 4-2. Tampa’s offensive firepower was too much, but the total goals in the finals was amazingly close at 18-15. Even more stunning considering Dallas was 28th in the league in goals that season of bubble hockey.
Then 2021 saw the emergence of a dynasty in the making, with Tampa winning back-to-back titles, this time topping another Cinderella team in Montreal. The Canadiens only took one win, an OT victory in game 4, but were outscored 17-8 overall. That included the Game 5 clincher, which Vasy sealed with a 22 save shutout. Statistically and on the ice, this one was a landslide final for the Lightning.
What does this all mean?
Colorado is 3rd in goals scored this year…Tampa is 8th. Colorado is 7th in goals allowed and Tampa is…6th! This series could not be any closer on paper. Not much of a disparity in the statistics, with the last match-up being this close the St. Louis-Boston finals in 2019. Like that series, I think we will see this one go the distance. With the excitement on display, that would be best case for fans and the NHL alike.
One of the major keys to the Colorado-Edmonton series was Darren Helm’s ability to stick to superstar players like glue. He’ll have to be closer to Nikita Kucherov than fans will be to the edge of their seats. Ondrej Palat was Tampa’s unsung hero, playing a very physical game now that matches his playmaking and clutch ability. Wild cards include Nazem Kadri and Brayden Point. Will either play and will either be a factor or a decoy? Safe bets for Stanley Cup clinching goals are unknowns for the most part. It takes an entire roster to reach the top of the mountain. Ross Colton did it last year…Uwe Krupp in 1996 for Colorado…it’s not always the most famous who score that life-changing goal.
Colorado is unbeaten on the road in the playoffs, an incredible feat. If they keep that streak alive the cup should be theirs. If Tampa can draw on their experience and ability to bounce back from a loss if needed (Lightning have lost 5 games these playoffs, Avalanche only two) that could be the edge in their corner. Mikko Rantanen came alive in the last series and the finals could make him a household name. You have to go waaaaaay back to the 2012 champion Los Angeles Kings to find a team entering the finals that had lost 2 or less games the entire playoffs. L.A. was 12-2 heading to the finals and prevailed over the New Jersey Devils who were 12-6 entering the final series. Colorado is 12-2 and Tampa is 12-5 this season. One thing is for certain, each side will be facing their toughest opponent this postseason (Sorry Toronto fans).
The coronation of two Calder Trophy winners finally happens, as Nathan MacKinnon and Gabriel Landeskog lead the way, making Vasy look quasi-human and emerge with the Avalanche’s first cup since 2001. This series will go the full 7…sit back, relax and enjoy some incredible hockey ahead regardless of the outcome.
Conference Finals Predictions: 2-0…finally rounding in to form!
-Written by Chris Dittmer