Quest for a three-peat alive: What we’ve learned about the Cup Final-bound Lightning


TAMPA BAY — The Tampa Bay Lightning have eradicated the New York Rangers and superior to the Stanley Cup Ultimate for the third straight season, with the Colorado Avalanche rested and prepared for Sport 1 (Wednesday, 8 ET, ESPN).

Listed here are 5 issues we realized concerning the Lightning to date of their 2022 postseason journey and what they imply for the ultimate showdown.

The three-peat is in attain

The NHL hasn’t had a staff three-peat as Stanley Cup champion since 1983, when the New York Islanders completed off their dynasty. Since then, six different groups received back-to-back Stanley Cups. 5 of them didn’t advance previous the second spherical till the Lightning received the East this season.

“You do not get these probabilities typically. They do not come round. It is like we have seen the highest of the mountain. Let’s hold going for extra,” Lightning coach Jon Cooper mentioned.

It is a basic matchup for the Stanley Cup: The Colorado Avalanche, attempting to lastly break by way of to win their first Cup since 2001 after a couple of years as a prime contender; and the Lightning, now simply 4 wins away from an unprecedented achievement within the NHL’s salary-cap period, which began in 2005.

(Principally) previous faces, identical success

The Avalanche are dealing with a Lightning staff whose core is actually the identical because the groups that received back-to-back Cups.

Tampa Bay is powered by stars:

  • Middle Steven Stamkos, the staff captain with 481 profession targets

  • Winger Nikita Kucherov, a former league MVP and the playoffs’ main scorer

  • Middle Brayden Point, who missed practically two rounds to harm however has scored extra playoff targets than some other participant up to now three postseasons

  • Defenseman Victor Hedman, nominated for six straight seasons for the Norris Trophy because the NHL’s prime defenseman, and playoff MVP in 2020

  • Defenseman Ryan McDonagh, a gradual veteran

  • Goalie Andrei Vasilevskiy, the playoff MVP in 2021

They’re supported by a returning solid of characters that embody winger Ondrej Palat, who scored two overtime-preventing, successful targets towards the Rangers; rugged forwards Alex Killorn and Pat Maroon, who’s trying to play on his fourth straight Cup winner; ace defensive middle Anthony Cirelli, who shut down the Rangers’ prime line; and the smooth-skating protection of Mikhail Sergachev.

One of the crucial spectacular issues about this run? That the Lightning misplaced their complete checking line and a few key function gamers from the previous two Cup wins; changed them with veteran offseason pickups (Corey Perry, Pierre-Edouard Bellemare) and trade-deadline acquisitions (Brandon Hagel, Nick Paul); and have not missed a beat.

“We had been in search of a match,” GM Julien BriseBois mentioned. “We’re in search of guys which have delight and which have ambition. The delight is what is going on to drive you to maintain pushing your self when issues aren’t going effectively for you. The ambition goes to gasoline your continued success. You are still hungry for extra.”

Kucherov is elite

The Avalanche and Lightning each have elite skaters who can take over video games. Kucherov is chief amongst them. Kucherov has 23 factors in 17 video games, distributed reasonably equally between 5-on-5 and the ability play. No NHL participant has scored extra factors than Kucherov over the previous three postseasons. Whereas his goal-scoring prowess is elite, it is his playmaking capability and puck distribution that allows him to rack up the factors.

He’s a pace-setter for the Lightning. When he is assured and rolling offensively, they take discover. “You may hear the chatter on the bench when he is coming off [the ice]. The blokes figuring out that your finest participant is ‘on’ in an enormous recreation,” Stamkos mentioned.

If the Lightning win a 3rd straight Stanley Cup, it could possibly be Kucherov’s flip to hoist the Conn Smythe Trophy as playoff MVP.

Can the Avs beat Vasilevskiy?

Colorado caught some goaltending breaks this postseason. The Nashville Predators did not have injured starter Juuse Saros. The St. Louis Blues misplaced a resurgent Jordan Binnington to harm in Sport 3. And Edmonton Oilers goalie Mike Smith was … well, Mike Smith.

Opposing goaltenders have a mixed save share of .886 towards the Avalanche this postseason. However barring one thing unexpected, the Avalanche will face their hardest net-minding competitors within the Stanley Cup Ultimate — and the participant many take into account to be the very best goalie on the earth.

The postseason did not begin off nice for Vasilevskiy, as he gave up 22 targets in seven video games to the high-octane Toronto Maple Leafs. However he was nice when it mattered most, stopping 30 of 31 pictures in Sport 7. Outdoors of a hiccup in Sport 1 towards the Rangers, after a nine-day layoff, Vasilevskiy has been completely dominant. As coach Jon Cooper mentioned, he received “his mojo again” because the playoffs went on.

In Vasilevskiy, the Avalanche face one of many biggest postseason goalies in NHL historical past. It isn’t simply how good he’s, but it surely’s when he is at his finest: In 23 earlier series-clinching video games, Vasilevskiy had a 1.65 goals-against common and 6 shutouts. A 3rd straight Stanley Cup may solidify his legacy as top-of-the-line ever.

“After we look again, after we’re older, that is going to be one thing that stays there a very long time. It is fairly cool to play with a participant that is going to go down as top-of-the-line that is ever performed the sport,” Killorn mentioned. “That is the way you gauge gamers: How they play in big-time video games. He is been nothing however super in these video games.”

That championship adaptability

Throughout their run to the Ultimate, the Avalanche have been a staff that may win an 8-6 recreation as comfortably as they’ll win a 4-0 shutout. Actually, they did each in the identical collection towards the Edmonton Oilers. As Colorado star Nathan MacKinnon mentioned, the Avalanche can play with offensive flourish at residence after which play “boring and gross” hockey on the street to sluggish groups down.

The Avalanche are cooking with a recipe the Lightning created of their previous two championship seasons. Tampa Bay has the offensive gamers to go objective for objective with the Avalanche, who lead the playoffs with 4.64 targets per recreation. However the Lightning even have the power to win 1-0, with veteran gamers embodying the affected person poise crucial to take action.

There isn’t any telling how a collection will play out earlier than it is performed, but it surely would not be shocking to see the Stanley Cup Ultimate develop into a battle between the Colorado offense and the number of methods the Lightning will try to defend it. They’ve Vasilevskiy because the spine. They’ve Hedman and McDonagh enjoying near 47 minutes per recreation between them. They’ve a newly fashioned checking line with Hagel, Cirelli and Killorn who dominated the Rangers at 5-on-5, and a set of forwards who delight themselves on defending by any means crucial.

“Does it get contagious? It does. God forbid you watch a man [block a shot] after which you’ve got an opportunity to do it. You come to the bench and it is not a enjoyable place to be in case you’re not prepared to do this. So guys get in line in that regard,” Cooper mentioned. “That is been the historical past with us for a lot of years. It is type of constructed into our tradition.”

A championship tradition, and one that ought to make for an excellent Stanley Cup Ultimate towards the Avalanche.

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