The quest for three straight Stanley Cup Championships starts here for the Tampa Bay Lightning. Less than a month away, July seventh will mark the one year anniversary of when the team not only raised the Stanley Cup, but did it in less than one year’s time between 2020 and 2021.
When the full team gathered around to touch that giant piece of medal, they were only the 9th team in the 94-year history of the award being given to the NHL Champions to touch it back-to-back years. But they are hungry for more. The group is four wins away from becoming just the fourth team to three-peat as Stanley Cup Champions.
What’s standing in the way of Lightning striking again? A snowstorm of a team with a speedy, high-powered offense and immense roster depth in the Colorado Avalanche.
The Avs concluded yet another dominant season as the top team in the Western Conference. They finished with a franchise-best 119 points. The team has two of the most prolific players in the game in centerman Nathan MacKinnon and Norris Trophy frontrunner in defenceman Cale Makar.
However, the team has suffered a rough fate in their last three seasons. Between 2019-2021 this group could not get over a second round playoff hump. Since they lifted their second Stanley Cup in franchise history in 2001, they have had nothing to show the hockey world in the form of a championship, let alone an appearance in the Stanley Cup Finals. Puck drop for this year’s finals was two decades in the making for this group.
Each team easily has the talent and the depth to win it all. They are the top two teams in goal differential this playoffs. But there are certain little key factors that could make a difference towards one team’s fate. Here are three things to watch for in the 2022 Stanley Cup Finals.
Could Andrei Vasilevskiy’s Goaltending Performance Come Up Clutch Again?
One of the true defining factors in the Lightning’s successful Stanley Cup Finals runs has been the clutch performances of their goaltender. Vasilevskiy has literally skated on thin ice multiple times in the playoffs. In the opening round, the Toronto Maple Leafs just looked to be ending their dreadful winless playoff series skid.
Yet the 27-year-old net-minder made key stops in game six that would have otherwise eliminated the Lightning. The team however won it in overtime to live another day. In the deciding game seven he came up big again making 31 saves. In the next round the Lightning made quick work of their in-state matchup against the Florida Panthers, who were the regular season’s top goal scoring team.
Vasilevskiy did not allow more than a goal per game in the four game sweep. He turned things around for the team late in the Conference Finals with the Lightning down in the series 2-game-0. He continues to cement his playoff legacy. But this Avs team who has been a high-powered speedy offense all season, playoffs included will be his toughest test yet. But he has proven time and time again to be a prime performer in the spotlight.
General Manager Joe Sakic’s Moves May Be A Difference Maker For The Avs
When the Avs last raised Lord Stanley in 2001, Joe Sakic was their team captain and leading scorer. When they won their first one in 1996, the Hall of Famer won the Conn Smythe Trophy for the top player in the Stanley Cup Playoffs. Now, Sakic has the chance to win it as the face of the front office, the team’s general manager.
He made some moves at the trade deadline which just might have been difference makers. At the trade deadline he acquired Artturi Lekhonen, Josh Manson, Andrew Cogliano and Nico Sturm. The four have had a role in some capacity with scoring or assisting in clutch goals throughout these playoffs, according to Mike Zeisberger of NHL.Com. They may be the difference makers who come up big in the finals too as he team will likely be without three players in the finals including star centerman Nazem Kadri.
Will More Recent Exposure to Competition Or More Rest Win It In The End?
The Avs have had eight days of rest leading up to the game, thanks to their quick work of the Edmonton Oilers in the Conference Finals. The Lightning on the other hand are coming off just three days of rest after it took them six games to beat the New York Rangers in their Conference Finals. In the last two finals matchups, the Lightning were also the team with less days of rest. Though the discrepancy was not this large.
Even if this does look to affect the Lightning early in the series, the tide of the series could turn anytime. The world of hockey could be in for one of the most exciting championships in recent years. Will the Lightning dynasty continue or will the Avs previal and earn Denver thier first professional sports championship in six years?