NHL Finals: Series Preview
Written by: Matthew Driscoll
This NHL Postseason has been quietly brilliant. There have been upsets, a day with three Game 7’s, the Battle for Alberta, and the emergence of new stars. We’ve seen historic runs from the gruesome twosome of Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl, Jake Oettenger and Igor Shesterkin showing signs of their predecessors Ben Bishop and King Henrik, and the Toronto Maple Leafs’ drought of the second round continuing for at least another year. However, one more exciting piece of the fray is unfolding, an accomplishment unseen since the Islanders in the 1980s: a team winning three straight Stanley Cups.
The Tampa Bay Lightning are loaded. In fact, that might be an understatement. Their run began in 2019, as the Bolts won the President’s Trophy but also inherited the curse that comes with the achievement; they got swept by the eighth seeded Columbus Blue Jackets. Despite the mountain of memes, the Lightning bounced back in a big way, winning the next two Cups in Covid-ridden seasons. Their explosive core of Stamkos, Kucherov, Hedman and Vasilevskiy terrorize opponents desperately trying to match up. In addition, they have one of the deepest supporting casts in the league. Deadline acquisitions of Brandon Hagel and Nick Paul have been critical to their playoff success. Veterans Corey Perry, Pat Maroon, Ryan McDonagh and Zach Bogosian (Atlanta Thrashers legend) give the team significant playoff experience. They also boast impressive young talent across the roster, namely Anthony Cirelli and Mikhail Sergachev.
Their playoff matchups have been a grind from the start. Their first-round matchup with the Maple Leafs was an intense back and forth series, with Tampa Bay scoring two unanswered in Game 6 and Nick Paul providing the two goals that advanced the Lightning to the next round: the Battle of Florida. The Florida Panthers’ season ended with 122 points and a President’s Trophy. Ironically, they were swept by the Lightning. The only game that the Panthers didn’t score one goal in was when Vasilevskiy shut them out in the decisive Game 4. Up next were the young and hungry Rangers, and after jumping out to a commanding 2-0 series lead, they looked like the next Beast of the East. However, the Lightning showed their tenacity, winning four straight well-played games. Their experience coupled with a tough playoff schedule should give them an edge, but their challenger is unlike any they have faced to date.
With the Colorado Avalanche, the question has always been when, not if they would make it to the Finals. Their roster is stacked with talent. Nathan Mackinnon, Mikko Rantanen and Gabriel Landeskog form the Western Conference version of the Perfection Line. Cale Makar, Devon Toews and Bo Byram headline a budding defensive core. Their goaltending took a bit of a hit once Darcy Kuemper was sidelined but Pavel Francouz has stepped up in a big way. We will see which one Colorado sends out against the Lightning juggernaut. The Av’s rolled through the playoffs, sweeping Nashville and Edmonton while beating the Blues in 6 games. Their offensive machine will look to keep picking apart defensive units, and their explosive power play will take advantage against mismatches in size, skill and speed.
This Stanley Cup Finals will not be a cakewalk for either team. Expect lots of scoring, especially early on. Both teams have consistently shown that they do not favor feeling opponents out before attacking, they prefer to strike early and often, sometimes at the risk of counterattacks. This will be a fast-paced, exciting series regardless of how long it goes. With that being said, the Lightning are just too deep. If they can hold the Mackinnon line at bay (reasonably) and Braydon Point returns to form after his injury, they should win the series in 6 games.
PREDICTION: Lightning in 6