The best possible conference finals? Why Rangers-Lightning, Avs-Oilers demand your attention


The convention remaining spherical of the 2022 Stanley Cup playoffs is upon us. Sixteen groups entered the postseason match, however solely 4 are left within the bracket, because the New York Rangers will tackle the Tampa Bay Lightning within the East, and the Colorado Avalanche will sq. off towards the Edmonton Oilers within the West.

To assist get you up to the mark earlier than the puck drops on Sport 1 of the West matchup Tuesday evening, we’re bringing you a mega-preview, breaking down every workforce in 5 totally different classes and providing our predictions on which golf equipment will head to the Stanley Cup Remaining.

Notice: Kristen Shilton previewed the Western Convention groups, whereas Greg Wyshynski previewed the 2 golf equipment from the East.

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How they received right here: Defeated Pittsburgh Penguins 4-3, defeated Carolina Hurricanes 4-3.

Goalie confidence score: 10

The Igor Shesterkin that we noticed throughout Spherical 1 isn’t the Igor Shesterkin that the Lightning are going to see. He labored via his feelings throughout the Rangers’ first two video games in Pittsburgh, the place he was pulled twice. He battled again and won a Game 7. In opposition to Carolina, Shesterkin gave up two or fewer objectives in six of the seven video games within the collection and won another Game 7, this time on the highway. He is each their final line of protection and their catalyst, because the Rangers feed off his performances when opponents tip the ice.

Defenseman Adam Fox stated he is wanting ahead to the battle between Andrei Vasilevskiy and Shesterkin. “Clearly, Vasilevskiy has a observe file that speaks for itself. However I feel Shesty has one which does, too. What he is executed this yr has been insanely spectacular. Two good goalies coming collectively. However I’ve numerous religion in Shesty,” he stated.

What we have discovered about this workforce up to now within the postseason

The Rangers had their share of breaks. Defenseman Jacob Trouba‘s booming hits took out Penguins star Sidney Crosby for 2 vital video games, after which Hurricanes ahead Seth Jarvis in Sport 7. The Rangers did not should face Penguins starter Tristan Jarry till Sport 7; as a substitute, they noticed backup Casey DeSmith for 5 and a half durations after which third-stringer Louis Domingue for simply over six video games. The Rangers did not should face Hurricanes starter Frederik Andersen, who missed the playoffs with a lower-body damage; as a substitute, they noticed Antti Raanta for six video games and half of Sport 7 till his damage, after which third-stringer Pyotr Kochetkov.

However breaks are solely breaks if one capitalizes on them, and the Rangers have proven a formidable resiliency. They rallied to beat the Penguins after being down 3-1 of their first-round collection. They rallied from 2-0 and 3-2 collection deficits to defeat the Hurricanes. “I’ve sort of referred to us as cockroaches. We simply did not go away. That is all the time been ingrained within the tradition of each good workforce I have been on right here. We simply do not go away, whatever the rating and no matter the place the sport is. We simply carry on looking for our recreation and enjoying for one another,” stated ahead Chris Kreider.

The Rangers nonetheless aren’t a formidable five-on-five workforce, counting on Shesterkin to bail them out at even power, which he has. They’re super on the facility play, as Carolina witnessed. They’ve depth at ahead and are getting wonderful play from defensemen like Fox and Trouba. And coach Gerard Gallant is pushing the proper buttons on the subject of line mixtures.

Participant(s) who might be key to the collection

Clearly, the Rangers are going to go so far as Shesterkin takes them. However the gamers and Gallant all stated that their Sport 7 win on the Hurricanes was indicative of what a quintessential effort from the Rangers appears to be like like, getting factors from 12 totally different gamers.

Mika Zibanejad led the best way with three factors. Kreider had two objectives, after scoring 52 throughout the common season. They will want continued offense from Fox, who had 18 factors in 14 video games. However it’ll additionally take continued contributions from gamers like Andrew Copp (12 factors), Ryan Strome (9) and Frank Vatrano (8); and additional injury executed by the Rangers’ “Child Line” of Alexis Lafreniere, Filip Chytil and Kaapo Kakko.

Participant who must step up

Artemi Panarin quietly had factors within the final three video games towards Carolina, together with an ideal outlet move that sprung Strome for a vital aim that put them up 3-0. However the Rangers star has solely had two signature video games within the playoffs: a three-point evening in Sport 2 towards the Penguins and an additional time power-play aim in Sport 7 of that collection. They may use some extra from him, particularly at five-on-five.

How will the Rangers deal with Nikita Kucherov?

No disrespect supposed to Sebastian Aho, however the Rangers did not should face an elite offensive participant like Kucherov of their collection towards the Hurricanes. The final time they did was within the first spherical, when Crosby’s line ran roughshod over them (Crosby had 10 factors in six video games) — till a Trouba hit value No. 87 a recreation and a half. Kucherov has 15 factors in 11 video games, together with seven on the facility play. How they select to defend Kucherov’s line goes to be a key for the collection.

How they received right here: Defeated Toronto Maple Leafs 4-3, defeated Florida Panthers 4-0.

Goalie confidence score: 10

Andrei Vasilevskiy is among the best postseason goaltenders in NHL historical past. His .925 profession playoff save share ties him for third all time (minimal 60 video games) with Corridor of Famer Dominik Hasek, amongst others. This postseason, he is 8-3 with a .932 save share and has 6.76 objectives saved above common to steer all goalies nonetheless enjoying within the postseason. And that was towards the 2 greatest offensive groups within the common season.

The Huge Cat’s run since 2020 in elimination video games is the stuff of legend: 10-0, six of the wins by shutout. He is an integral a part of their success.

What we have discovered about this workforce up to now within the postseason

There’s lots we already knew concerning the Lightning after back-to-back Stanley Cup championships, from their capability to win in a wide range of methods to their effectivity in elimination video games. However that does not imply the playoffs have not enlightened us about some features of this Lightning workforce.

For instance, we have discovered that they’ve successfully rebuilt their backside six after the offseason exodus of their celebrated checking line of Yanni Gourde, Blake Coleman and Barclay Goodrow. Heart Ross Colton, who scored the one aim of their Cup-clinching recreation final summer time towards the Canadiens, has performed nearly all of his minutes with Brandon Hagel, whom the Lightning acquired from Chicago on the commerce deadline. They’ve hung out with fellow deadline pickup Nick Paul, previously of the Ottawa Senators, however actually clicked with veteran winger Corey Perry within the Florida collection. Colton and Perry, the latter of whom was acquired as a free agent this previous summer time, lead the Lightning with 5 objectives every. Returning contributors Alex Killorn and Ondrej Palat can play up or down the lineup with effectiveness. Pierre-Edouard Bellemare, in his first season with the Lightning, and playoff hero Pat Maroon additionally bolster the underside six.

We’re discovered that fatigue hasn’t but been a difficulty for a workforce that is gone all the best way in two straight postseasons — maybe as a result of they adopted truncated common seasons? We have additionally discovered that two straight Stanley Cups have not made the Bolts fats and completely satisfied; the starvation to win one other, and the killer intuition to shut out groups, stays for Tampa.

Participant(s) that might be key to the collection

Nikita Kucherov leads the Lightning with 15 factors in 11 video games. There’s an argument to be made that Kucherov is the most effective power-play performer within the NHL, and he has lived as much as that with seven factors with the person benefit. Their second-leading scorer is defenseman Victor Hedman, who’s doing as Victor Hedman does: He has 10 factors in 11 video games and is skating 25:03 per recreation.

Heart Steven Stamkos (eight factors) and defenseman Ryan McDonagh have been there in massive moments. Heart Anthony Cirelli has two factors in 11 video games however has supplied what the Lightning want within the center after Brayden Point‘s damage.

Participant who must step up

The Lightning have a few gamers they’d prefer to see produce just a little extra, however their lack of manufacturing is injury-related in each instances. Clearly, the Lightning wish to see Level again on the ice. Coach Jon Cooper says his standout heart — the workforce’s main goal-scorer (30) over the previous two postseasons — is progressing from a lower-body damage he suffered in Sport 7 towards the Maple Leafs. He had 4 factors in seven video games earlier than that.

Hagel took a puck off one in all his toes in Sport 2 towards the Panthers, although he appeared in Video games 3 and 4. He hadn’t been practising, however is anticipated to play in Sport 1 of the Jap Convention finals. Once more, Hagel has executed effective within the roles that they’ve forged him in throughout the playoffs. That stated, they’d like multiple aim off 18 shot makes an attempt in 11 video games from a participant who had 25 objectives within the common season.

What would be the key to fixing Igor Shesterkin?

The Rangers goalie has been their greatest participant via the primary two rounds — heck, he has even chipped in three assists on prime of his stellar goaltending. However he isn’t unbeatable. The truth is, whilst he has gotten higher because the playoffs have continued — enjoying via jitters within the first spherical that included two video games he did not full in Pittsburgh — he has but to pitch a shutout.

The Hurricanes had their greatest success on high-danger possibilities, scoring eight high-danger objectives towards the Rangers goaltender, the second-most allowed within the second spherical. A few of these got here on odd-man rushes, just a few on possibilities on the doorstep. There have been occasions when Carolina created chaos round Shesterkin’s crease however could not discover the rebounds he’d depart. The Lightning should convert a few of these to beat “Shesty.”

As Carolina coach Rod Brind’Amour stated: Their drawback offensively was not having elite goal-scorers. There is no such thing as a such drawback for the Lightning.

Prediction for the collection: Rangers in seven

Tampa Bay is best 5-on-5. Their energy play goes to do some injury. They are not going to wilt if the Rangers management the tempo. If New York desires to commerce possibilities like they did towards the Hurricanes at MSG, the Lightning have finishers that make them pay in methods the Hurricanes couldn’t. If New York desires this to be a 1-0 goalie duel, the Lightning can win these, too. A wholesome Brayden Level clearly bolsters their benefit. On paper, they’re profitable this collection.

On paper, the Rangers have been out within the first spherical. And but, right here we’re. You’ll be able to say the Rangers have not confronted a goalie like Vasilevskiy, and that is true. However it’s additionally true that the Lightning have not confronted a goalie like Shesterkin, who’s enjoying out of his gourd proper now. The Rangers are enjoying with home cash. They are not the Maple Leafs or the Panthers, crushed by the burden of expectations and entitlement. They’re discovering methods to win, discovering methods to outlive and I feel they do it once more right here.

The Stanley Cup playoffs are a spot the place groups defy the numbers, discover an simple perception in themselves and create – for lack of a greater time period – postseason magic. I feel we’re there with the Rangers.

How they received right here: Defeated Nashville Predators 4-0, defeated St. Louis Blues 4-2.

Goalie confidence score: 7.5/10

Darcy Kuemper has been stable if unspectacular within the playoffs, posting a 6-2-0 file, .904 save share and a couple of.44 goals-against common.

Granted, Nashville’s Ryan Johansen did (by accident) injure Kuemper’s eye within the first spherical, however the goalie recovered and Colorado swept the Predators in time for Kuemper to return within the second spherical towards St. Louis. Kuemper got here via in that collection when the Avalanche wanted it, however there wasn’t numerous rhythm to his recreation.

Then once more, Kuemper hasn’t been going through a ton of pictures. In over 500 minutes of recreation motion this postseason, Kuemper has confronted solely 218 pucks. That is by far the fewest amongst any goalie left in these playoffs. The Blues averaged simply 26 pictures per recreation at Kuemper, whereas Colorado was in management averaging 37 pictures the opposite approach. When Kuemper was examined, he did not all the time look sharp; St. Louis caught him in dangerous positioning and decidedly flat-footed on just a few events. Now, does that replicate a deficiency in Kuemper’s recreation? Or was it symptomatic of the Blues’ inconsistent assault?

The reply ought to be clear early on towards Edmonton. The Oilers peppered Calgary’s Jacob Markstrom with over 34 pictures per recreation within the second spherical and their elite expertise up entrance (Connor McDavid, Leon Draisaitl, Evander Kane, and so on.) might be coming full pressure. Kuemper’s terrific common season (37-12-4, .921 SV%, 2.54 GAA) suggests he is as much as the duty of what is forward although — even when his playoff resume to this point is not so dazzling.

What we have discovered about this workforce up to now within the postseason

We do not roll out the term “juggernaut” for simply anybody round right here.

Colorado is each bit pretty much as good as we thought it was, and might be. Any notion that the Avs’ slide out of the common season (shedding six of their final seven video games) was a premonition of poor playoff efficiency to come back was unfounded. Colorado is notably multifaceted, able to beating its opponents in several methods. There’s an enviable stage of top-end expertise, however the balanced depth is admittedly what the Avalanche have displayed within the postseason.

Apart from Nathan MacKinnon going off in Sport 5 towards St. Louis, and Cale Makar simply being usually wonderful at each flip, it isn’t as if Colorado has required its superstars to hold the day. Seven Avs skaters have a minimum of three objectives within the playoffs, and 5 have double-digit level totals. Colorado has given up the third-fewest objectives towards per recreation (2.70) amongst remaining playoff groups, and its energy play is working at a crisp 34.5% (greatest in present all through the postseason).

The Avalanche are excelling within the methods they need to, getting well timed objectives and enjoying to their strengths. Colorado’s penalty kill (solely 73.1%) and goaltending (see above) have underwhelmed, and can be the almost certainly potential points towards Edmonton. However what we have seen up to now within the playoffs is Colorado primarily at its greatest.

Gamers who might be key to the collection

All eyes might be on Makar and MacKinnon.

The Avs’ Norris Trophy finalist defenseman initiatives to attract Edmonton’s hardest matchups, and because the Oilers proved towards Calgary, its prime line is hard to include. How properly Colorado’s again finish — led by Makar, Devon Toews and Bowen Byram — can handle these assignments will go a great distance in figuring out the collection.

In the meantime, MacKinnon might be main the cost up entrance. If his Sport 5 hat trick towards the Blues was any indication, “Playoff Nate” is able to dance toe-to-toe with McDavid & Co. MacKinnon already has eight objectives and 13 factors in 10 video games. Whereas offense can generally dry up the deeper we get into postseason play, that does not essentially imply will probably be the case right here. MacKinnon’s contributions might be large for the Avs.

Participant who must step up

We have already mentioned Kuemper. Let’s key on Mikko Rantanen.

Colorado’s massive winger has one aim in these playoffs, which he scored on an empty web within the Avs’ 6-3 victory over St. Louis in Sport 4. He has added 10 assists to his level whole, however Rantanen has nonetheless fallen wanting expectations to this point when it comes to output. Rantanen’s 36 objectives led Colorado within the common season, so seeing him hesitate to shoot the puck and fail to drive play like a $9.25 million-per-year participant ought to within the postseason is odd.

The Avalanche would require all arms on deck to maintain tempo with Edmonton. Their superstars saved enhancing all through the final spherical and have been the difference-makers at vital occasions. Rantanen should be precisely that for Colorado within the collection forward.

How do the Avs decelerate the McDavid-Draisaitl-Kane line?

By no means allow them to have the puck. Like, ever.

If solely it have been that straightforward.

Edmonton’s prime line is stacked, it is slippery and it has been working at an extremely excessive stage. Retaining these three in examine begins with good neutral-zone play, limiting their capability to achieve pace and forcing play to the surface. Calgary received burned off a pair clear appears to be like for that unit that changed into nearly series-defining errors. Colorado has to frustrate the Oilers’ prime skaters, make it tough for them to seek out area or get in a rhythm early.

The Oilers’ prime trio might be a assured bunch going into the collection — as they need to be — and Colorado can ship a message early by staying on prime of them and standing as much as that prime line’s pace in the midst of the ice.

How they received right here: Defeated Los Angeles Kings 4-3, defeated Calgary Flames 4-1.

Goalie confidence score: 8/10

The legend of Mike Smith has only grown this postseason.

He is a 40-year-old veteran churning out nice numbers, together with an 8-3-0 file, .927 SV% and a couple of.70 GAA. When you simply ignore the three objectives he gave up within the first six minutes of Sport 1 towards Calgary, and in addition put apart that he allowed a 132-foot clearing try previous the posts in Sport 4, then Smith has been unequivocally rock stable for the Oilers.

Not like Darcy Kuemper, who has confronted the fewest pictures amongst remaining playoff goaltenders, Smith has been peppered with the second-most. Being concerned to that diploma clearly works for the netminder, and he has thrived underneath the stress. That bodes properly for Edmonton on this collection, since Colorado occurs to be a high-volume shot workforce (39.8 per recreation); if that continues, Smith might be again underneath a highlight early and infrequently within the subsequent spherical.

What we have discovered about this workforce up to now within the postseason

The Oilers are extra resilient than some observers beforehand thought. When Jonathan Quick repeatedly slammed the door within the first-round collection, Edmonton did not panic. The Oilers purchased into enjoying good protection, caught to their construction and chipped away at Fast till they broke via. The second spherical towards Calgary could not have began any worse with a fast 3-0 deficit for Edmonton in Sport 1 and one other 2-0 gap to start out Sport 2. Once more, the Oilers stayed calm, and refocused. At each juncture the place previous Oilers’ groups have misstepped, this group has stepped up.

The opposite factor we have seen from Edmonton is an actual dedication to the defensive aspect of the puck from its prime gamers. There was by no means any doubt that Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl may rating within the common season, however the playoffs have introduced their challenges in maintaining that tempo offensively. This postseason has been totally different due to how sturdy that duo’s defensive habits are. It begins in their very own finish and being engaged down low. The uptick of physicality in McDavid’s recreation has been well-documented. There has additionally been extra effort on the forecheck.

All of these little issues add up once they’re coming prime down via the lineup. It breeds confidence, and that is having a huge effect on the Oilers’ success on this postseason.

Participant who might be key to the collection

If Cale Makar is the flashy rising star main Colorado’s blue line, Duncan Keith is the veteran grandmaster stabilizing Edmonton’s again finish.

Keith has been on each massive stage hockey has to supply. He is aware of when to push and when to tug again. He relieves stress in Edmonton’s finish, makes good performs up the ice and is a pure chief from whom few phrases are required — however there is not any doubt Keith has a “massive voice” within the Oilers’ room, based on teammates. Colorado might be zipping round making an attempt to set a tone offensively, and early on this collection Keith might be appeared upon to regular Edmonton between the whistles and on the bench.

Keith did that for the Oilers towards Calgary, steering them out of a possible loss in Sport 2 and selecting up among the duties for the not-100% wholesome Darnell Nurse. What Keith does greatest is convey consistency to Edmonton’s defensive effort. They will want each little bit of his expertise and talent to sluggish the Avalanche down.

Participant who must step up

You might put Nurse right here, and say he hasn’t been an apparent difference-maker for the Oilers (to the diploma a top-pairing defender normally is). However the defenseman is battling a core muscle damage and he is nonetheless enjoying over 21 minutes per recreation, so faulting him too harshly for not acting at his most elite can be misguided.

On the whole, Oilers coach Jay Woodcroft has been leaning on the identical eight forwards up entrance and limiting the usage of his fourth-liners. So if there’s room for enchancment anyplace, it is from among the Oilers’ second- and third-line skaters like Warren Foegele, Ryan McLeod, Kailer Yamamoto and Jesse Puljujarvi. Every participant had some stable stretches late within the Calgary collection, however these 4 have mixed for less than 5 objectives to this point within the playoffs. We have seen in different collection across the league how vital well timed scoring is from usually unheralded or sudden gamers. There hasn’t been a ton of that for the Oilers; most of their key tallies have come from the identical group of 4 or 5 guys.

This collection towards Colorado may see every workforce’s prime abilities canceling one another out. That is the place depth will come into focus, and the Oilers will wish to make sure theirs is on level.

Which powerhouse prime line has the sting?

Are we focusing closely on the most effective gamers on this collection? Sure. Do you blame us? Clearly not.

This Western Convention finals current a hockey feast for the eyes: Colorado’s prime line of Gabriel Landeskog, Nathan MacKinnon and Valeri Nichushkin vs. Kane, McDavid and Draisaitl. Oh, child.

Edmonton’s trio has mixed for 26 objectives and 67 factors in 12 video games. Colorado’s massive three has produced 17 objectives and 31 factors in 10 video games. Now, these two groups simply went via two second-round collection that have been markedly totally different. The Oilers performed a wide-open, goal-scoring bonanza of a five-game unfold towards Calgary versus the Avalanche’s extra bruising, defensive-conscious, six-game affair towards St. Louis. This collection initiatives to pattern extra towards what Edmonton simply skilled, with the potential for bigger momentum swings and alternative to generate offense.

If that is the case, whose prime line will profit extra? Colorado’s can have much less stress to provide given their second unit is anchored by a man named Nazem Kadri, who’s coming off an 87-point common season and is averaging a degree per recreation within the playoffs. However do not underestimate the drive of MacKinnon and McDavid to actually showcase right here. Their head-to-head matchup might be a major speaking level within the lead-up to Sport 1. Each stood out late within the second spherical with a person spotlight efficiency (MacKinnon along with his Sport 5 hat trick, McDavid with the additional time game-winner in his personal Sport 5). They’re firing on all cylinders.

The sting, although, in all probability belongs to Edmonton. As a result of pretty much as good as McDavid has been, Draisaitl is perhaps higher (and he is enjoying harm, too). Draisaitl has unmatched playmaking capability and when he is on a roll, it is exhausting to think about how Colorado will completely include how adept he’s with the puck. And Kane already had a pair of hat tips within the playoffs. Not too shabby.

All we all know for certain is that the true winners listed here are these of us watching the motion unfold.

Prediction for the collection: Colorado in seven

All issues being equal, Colorado boasts the deeper workforce. Its protection has been just a little higher than Edmonton’s (giving up a playoff-low 27 pictures towards per recreation versus the Oilers’ 37.5) and its depth is spectacular. Mike Smith has been nice for Edmonton within the playoffs, with out query, however we have not seen the most effective of Kuemper but. If he lastly emerges on this collection, that is an edge for the Avalanche as properly. It’s going to be right down to the wire, however I like Colorado.

My different prediction for this collection? Particular groups will play a pivotal function. The Avalanche have a wonderful energy play (34.5%) however weaker penalty kill (73.1%). The Oilers are extra balanced (28.1% on the facility play, 85.4% on the kill). Edmonton actually carried out properly towards Calgary on the penalty kill too, arising with vital stops that pissed off the Flames’ assault. If Edmonton can try this once more within the convention finals, Colorado’s march to the Cup finals might be severely impeded — and maybe derailed.

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