Tampa Bay: It still looks pretty good!
Well, here we are, back to where we started — and closer to getting an answer to a question we asked before this season. With a 2-1 win in Tampa Bay on Saturday night, the Lightning secured their place in the Stanley Cup Final for the third year in a row, with captain Stephen Stamkos scoring both goals, and he’s now absolutely joking.
Regardless of this winning goal, it is New York Rangers goalkeeper Igor Shesterkin who is responsible for the game and not the outcome of the series. Shesterkin played a great series. Tampa does this only for teams: They’ve done it 11 consecutive times in the postseason over the past three years. Whether the Rangers were tired of the previous two series, and both went seven games, Tampa made it their a look exhausted. After games 1 and 2, Tampa outperformed the Rangers, and his shot overtook him, a pass and eventually outplayed him. New York has been training too – and this has also happened a lot to teams facing lightning lately. John Cooper has a lot to work with, but he’s also an effective communicator: more of a corporate manager than a classic hockey coach.
Anyway, here’s how they play it on the ice: After becoming the first team to score consecutive wins against Lightning goalkeeper Andrei Vasilevskiy in three years, Rangers stopped scoring. New York scored nine goals in their first two games, but managed only five more in the last four – only one of them scored with the same intensity. This will not cut it. Tampa Bay is simply a very disciplined team, very willing to play a solid defense when it counts, and they have a very good goalkeeper to count on your strength to beat them.
You have to be able to outdo them in all situations. You have to be a team like the Colorado Avalanche.
Avalanche Offensive Machine
There were probably only two points during the regular season where the Colorado Avalanche looked like a regular hockey team: at first, when they fought out of the gate, and at the end of it, when they went 1-6 in their last seven games. But this last extension was either a fluke or an elaborate fake. Either way, we should not be deceived. The truth is, avalanche is a prolific hockey machine.
Just look what they did to Edmonton. my Lord. However, here’s the thing: Despite the Oilers’ drift, their offensive performance was very good! In most other situations, that will likely mean winning the series. Take a look at this comparison from JFreshHockey for positions five through five up to 60 minutes.
In fact, Colorado is already a historical powerhouse. As Neil Payne wrote this week in FiveThirtyEight, this Avalanche team ranks 10th in scoring difference per game among all the Stanley Cup Finalists through to the final round and only tied, ironically, with the Edmonton Oilers 1982-83 for the second-best win. percentages. The 2022 Oilers, for their part, are a very good hockey team. But the Oilers aren’t a good enough hockey team to beat the Colorado Avalanche. A team that is good enough to weather the avalanche will have to play highly disciplined defensive hockey, have a gripping goalkeeper, and be able to fend off a strong attack.
Oh, and one more thing: They should be able to bypass Cal Makar. It’s not easy, because if we’ve learned anything from the Avalanche-Oilers series, it’s…
Makar can see the matrix
The debate over the best player in the NHL usually revolves around two players: Auston Matthews and Conor McDavid. This can be understood, given his ability to score goals and his all-round prowess. Colorado forward Nathan McKinnon also gets into this conversation from time to time. However, perhaps the best player is actually his teammate, defender Kal Makar.
In his 14 playoffs before the final, Makar scored 22 points. That includes 10 points during the first-round sweep of the Nashville Predators, the most a defensive man has scored in four playoff games ever. It also includes the five points he earned in Colorado’s final game against the Oilers, the tally of one game in which no defensive man has succeeded in the playoffs since Al MacInnis in 1994. McCar’s closest opponent for defensive points this season, Rangers defender Adam Fox, was 23 points. ..but through 20 games. He took nothing away from Fox, nor was he tasked with covering McDavid. It was headquarters. And she did it without breaking a sweat.
He sees the headquarters of the matrix and bends them at will. Makar is the first.
A touch of history
There is a myth surrounding NHL Conference Championship prizes: touching the Clarence Campbell Bowl (West) or Prince of Wales Cup (East) will curse your team for the Stanley Cup. It is also customary that if the team stands with either trophy, they do so with an official face. The logic, if you want to call it that, is that it’s not the real thing. The theory is bullshit, of course: Lots of teams that touch either trophy go on to win the Stanley Cup. But tradition reflects the fact that no one really cares about convention championships in hockey. Only the Stanley Cup matters. But it’s still fun to watch a group debate in real time, whether it’s the collective choice of superstitious belief or not – or any version of it.
Joe Sakic clearly doesn’t care about superstition. But can other coincidences make sense? As previously mentioned, this Avalanche team has the best playoff win record since 1982-83 Oilers went to the final. As it happened, these Mazyans encountered the New Yorkers – and got carried away. This was the third consecutive time that the Islanders had won the Stanley Cup, and the last time they had done so three times.
Prior to the series Against the Islanders in the spring of 1983, Oilers General Manager Glen Suther told the New York Times, “I don’t see us being much different from the Islanders. Except that they’ve gone a lot further than we are. And we’d definitely like to replace them.” After years of losing, Oilers saw what the differences really were. “They were more disciplined than we were, and they probably had a better work ethic,” Grant Faure said in 2019. Wayne Gretzky said. “They weren’t even partying, I was thinking ‘They’re exhausted,’ I think there’s more to offer,” Paul Covey said. “
The Lightning team has proven in this post-season why they are the first team since these residents to play in a cup for the third time in a row. Now, here comes Avalanche: a dynamic, fast, and high-scoring team out of the West. The backlash from the ’80s is strong right now.
Shall we get three peats?
I fail at predictions most of the time, but this match has been true since the start of the post-season – probably because it looks like the goalkeeper is about to change. But is it time now? Colorado will give Tampa Bay its toughest challenge yet. They will rest and will be hungry. They are arguably the strongest opponent that Lightning faced in the final: a better team than Dallas or Montreal. An avalanche could do whatever was necessary to beat the lightning, no doubt. But I don’t think they will. Tampa feels like the deepest mental team. And with the possibility of Brayden Point returning, they’ll be more offensive as well. Tampa will discover Colorado — or at least Vasilevsky will, and that may be all that matters.
Two months ago, my money was in Colorado. Now, I think Tampa Bay will be triple peat. But we’ll have six hockey games before that.