It’s that time of year again.
After 82 regular season games and three playoff rounds of the National Hockey League complete, we have two teams left standing as they compete for the greatest trophy in sports, Lord Stanley’s Cup.
In my opinion, there is no postseason tournament that is as thrilling and exciting as the Stanley Cup Playoffs. The games are intense, feisty and, at-times, emotional for both sides. It is much harder for a top-ranked team to win the Stanley Cup than in any other sport. Even though this year’s Eastern Conference champions, the Tampa Bay Lightning, have won back-to-back Stanley Cups, they have experienced heartbreak and failure in the years leading up to where they are now.
Speaking of Tampa, it is not surprising that they ended up back in the Stanley Cup finals. They are coming off of a conference final win over the New York Rangers. Even though they achieved this feat in six games, they had a slow start to the series. Coming off a span in which they didn’t play a playoff game for nine days after sweeping their in-state rivals, the Florida Panthers, they looked slow and lost at times. Young Rangers netminder Igor Shesterkin did a stellar job in shutting down the Lightning’s offensive attack led by the likes of captain Steven Stamkos and superstar Nikita Kucherov. In those two games, Shesterkin had a .943 save percentage and a 2.00 goals against average.
On the other hand, fellow countryman and Lightning goaltender Andrei Vasilevsky had a difficult time in those two games. The Rangers power-play, which had been remarkable up to that point in the playoffs, played a huge difference in those two games.
The Lightning in these playoffs have been led by veterans Nikita Kucherov with 24 points, Ondrej Palat with 17 points and captain Steven Stamkos and Victor Hedman with 15 points each. They will be looking to play on their experience in these playoffs to help them secure a three-peat.
The Colorado Avalanche came into the series heavily favored to win the Cup at -188 having lost just two playoff games in their three playoff series’. They have been led this postseason by defensemen Cale Makar with 22 points so far this postseason and not far behind is their regular season points leader right winger Mikko Rantanen with 19 points. However the Lightning might be looking to capitalize on the weaker goaltending of the Avalanche when compared to one of the top tier goalies in the league Andrei Vasilevsky. The Avalanche have played two goalies this postseason Darcy Kuemper and Pavel Francouz who have averaged an .895 and .906 save percentages in these playoffs respectively. Compared to Vasilevsky at .926 and he usually gets better the later it gets in the playoffs with him playing his best games usually when the Lightning are on the verge of elimination. The Avalanche have had 9 days of rest between series and evidently used it better than the Lightning used their 9 days of rest between their series with the Panthers and Rangers as the Avalanche took game 1 in overtime after scoring three early goals, but after that Vasilevsky locked it down and played a great game as the Lightning fought back and forced OT. The Avalanche then won at home taking the first game of the series and widening their odds for victory.
In game two, the Avalanche followed up their overtime win with an absolute blowout victory, winning 7-0 at home. The Avalanche started the series hot and were up 2-0; games three and four will take place in Tampa.
After the literal avalanche of goals that the Avs put down on the Lightning in game two, the Bolts struck in their home stadium to change the momentum of the series. Throughout the entire playoffs, we have seen the home team prevailing much more often than not, looking at not only the Rangers but the Hurricanes and Oilers as well. The Lightning finally found their footing after two games in the Mile High City, with a 6-2 victory over a powerful Avalanche squad.