The Stanley Cup Final is set, and it promises to be one for the ages. The Tampa Bay Lightning, back-to-back defending champs, will face the Colorado Avalanche for the chance to hoist the most storied trophy in North American sports. Tampa Bay looks to become the first team in almost 40 years to win the Stanley Cup three years in a row, while the Avalanche are looking to cap off the greatest season since the team moved to Denver.
The best-of-seven series gets underway at 8pm ET on Wednesday, June 15 from Ball Arena in Denver. Here’s what you need to know about what could be an all-time classic Stanley Cup Final.
Although the Florida Panthers were able to steal the Presidents’ Trophy (which is awarded for the most points in the regular season) from the Avalanche thanks to Colorado’s late-season slump, the Avs will host the Stanley Cup Final in Denver. The team’s 56 wins and 119 points both established new marks for the franchise, and the Avs had two winning streaks of nine-plus games during the regular season. Perhaps most worrisome for the Lightning, Colorado is unbeaten on the road in the playoffs, having rattled off seven-straight wins away from home while dropping just two games total in the first three rounds.
Here’s the full schedule for the Stanley Cup Final:
Wednesday, June 15: Lightning at Avalanche, 8 p.m. ET, ABC
Saturday, June 18: Lightning at Avalanche, 8 p.m. ET, ABC
Monday, June 20: Avalanche at Lightning, 8 p.m. ET, ABC
Wednesday, June 22: Avalanche at Lightning, 8 p.m. ET, ABC
*Friday, June 24: Lightning at Avalanche, 8 p.m. ET, ABC
*Sunday, June 26: Avalanche at Lightning, 8 p.m. ET, ABC
*Tuesday, June 28: Lightning at Avalanche, 8 p.m. ET, ABC
An Avalanche of Scoring (and Injuries)
The Avs’ performance this postseason would be impressive enough on its own, but the fact they’ve been so dominant while suffering numerous injuries to key players makes it flat out astonishing. Defenseman Samuel Girard suffered a season-ending broken sternum in the second round against the St. Louis Blues, and both Nazem Kadri and Andrew Cogliano needed surgery to repair broken fingers suffered during their sweep of the Edmonton Oilers in the Western Conference Finals. Colorado was also forced to lean on backup goaltender Pavel Francouz for most of that series after netminder Darcy Kuemper left in Game 1 following an undisclosed “upper-body injury.”
Fortunately for Colorado, Kuemper says he’s feeling 100 percent ahead of the Final, and head coach Jared Bednar told the media it’s possible that both Kadri and Cogliano play as well. Even if those players are forced to sit out, the Avalanche feel confident they can win it all. That’s due to the team’s depth, which was on full display against the Oilers; 16 of Colorado’s 20 skaters in the series recorded at least one point, and 10 of those 16 had multiple points.
Overall, the Avalanche are averaging 4.64 goals in the playoffs, and it’s not just thanks to star forwards like Nathan McKinnon and Gabriel Landeskog. Defenseman Cale Makar is pacing the team with 22 points, including nine points in the series against Edmonton. If you watched their 8-6 barnburner in Game 1 (or even just the explosive 3rd period of their closeout win in Game 4), you already know this Colorado team has speed and skill all over the ice.
Can the Lightning Strike Thrice?
If there’s a team that can handle the Avs’ offensive onslaught, it’s Tampa Bay. Thanks to exceptional team defense and their Venzina and Conn Smythe-winning goaltender Andrei Vasilevskiy, the Lightning have been able to frustrate opposing offenses throughout the playoffs.
Consider the team’s second round series against the top-seeded Florida Panthers. With elite scorers up front, the Panthers lead the NHL in scoring during the regular season, averaging 4.11 goals per game. But in the four game sweep of their in-state rivals, Tampa Bay allowed a total of 3 goals, with Vasilevskiy getting a shutout in Game 4. The Lightning also held the Panthers to just 1-of-31 on the power play, which could be critical against a Colorado team averaging a goal-per-game on the man advantage.
As you might expect from back-to-back Stanley Cup winners, the Lightning have also displayed exceptional poise. After falling behind 3-games-to-2 in the first round against the Toronto Maple Leaves, Tampa Bay rallied to win the series on the road in Game 7. In the Eastern Conference Finals, the Lightning won four straight against the New York Rangers after dropping the first two games. They may not be as flashy or high-scoring as Colorado, but Tampa Bay has what it takes to win.
Although the Lightning did not have home ice advantage in any of their series, they’re clearly the class of the Eastern Conference, as the Avs are out West. Still, from a betting perspective, the Avs are heavy favorites. Sunday on DraftKings, Tampa Bay’s series odds were listed as +155 (meaning a $100 bet would pay out $255), while the Avs were listed at -180 (meaning you would need to bet $180 to win $100). That line could change depending on what happens in Game 1 (where the odds are TB: +140, COL: -160), but considering how closely the teams match up, the betting value is definitely in Tampa Bay’s favor.