Tampa Bay has a lot more experience, but you can argue Colorado has a bit more talent.
Welcome to the intriguing 2022 Stanley Cup Final.
By virtue of their 119-110 points edge over the Lightning in the regular-season, the Avalanche will have the home-ice advantage in the series, which starts Wednesday in Denver (ESPN+, ABC).
Tampa is aiming for its third straight championship, something that hasn’t been done since the Islanders finished a fourpeat in 1983.
“It’s like we’ve seen the top of the mountain. Let’s keep going for more,” Tampa coach Jon Cooper said.
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Colorado, which will have eight days between games and could be rusty in the opener, is gunning for its first title since 2001.
The Avs’ drought seems long until you compare it to the Philadelphia Flyers, who haven’t won a Cup since 1975.
The Lightning know how to win pressure-packed games. They have won 11 straight playoff series. Oh, and they have 204 combined games of Stanley Cup Final experience on their roster.
That’s 175 more than Colorado, which has just 29 games of Final experience, led by Darren Helm’s 13.
Tampa winger Pat Maroon, the former Philadelphia Flyers farmhand, has played in 15 straight winning series — four with St. Louis, and 11 with the Lightning. He is aiming for his fourth Cup in four years.
Not bad for a guy who was kicked off the Phantoms by Flyers GM Paul Holmgren in 2010 after an alleged physical confrontation with coach Greg Gilbert. At the time, Maroon was the Phantoms’ top scorer.
According to the NHL, Maroon is the 19th player in history to be involved in a playoff run of at least 15 straight series wins. The longest streak: 19 consecutive series, all held by the Islanders’ powerhouses in the early 1980s.
The Lightning are a “real deep team,” Colorado coach Jared Bednar said. “Highly committed on the defensive side of things, dangerous offensively, and they have great goaltending. I mean, they’re back where they are for a reason.”
Here are some playoff highlights for both teams:
TB vs Colorado in Cup Final. Who do you have?
— Sam Carchidi (@BroadStBull) June 12, 2022
Tampa Bay Lighting
Scoring: The Bolts have been led by Steven Stamkos (nine goals) and Nikita Kucherov (23 points) in their 17 playoff games.
They have played the last 10 games without top-line center Brayden Point, who has an apparent leg injury. He is expected to play in the Finals, and might be ready for Game 1.
The Bolts have also gotten lots of offense from Ondrej Palat (eight goals, eight assists), who had two game-winners in the conference finals against the New York Rangers. Defenseman Victor Hedman has chipped in with 14 points, including 12 assists.
Goaltending: Andrei Vasilevskiy, a strong Vezina Trophy candidate, has been his brilliant self for most of the playoffs, compiling a 12-5 record, a 2.27 GAA, and a .928 save percentage.
Ex-Flyers factor: Fourth-line center Pierre-Edouard Bellemare (two goals), a former Flyer, has chipped in with steady play in the playoffs and is one of the Lightning’s penalty killer. Maroon, one of his linemates, has three goals in these playoffs.
Ex-Philadelphia Flyers goalie Brian Elliott, 37, has yet to play in the 2022 playoffs. He was 11-4-3 in the regular season and had a 2.43 GAA and .912 save percentage.
The Moose has never won a Cup.
Scoring: Defenseman Cale Makar, a player the Flyers and two other teams bypassed in the 2017 draft, has 22 points in 14 games to lead the Avs in the playoffs. Nathan MacKinnon paces the team with 11 goals, including five on the power play.
Per the #NHL, Game 1 Wednesday will mark the 50th career playoff contest for Cale Makar, who has 53 points (12-41) in his first 49 outings. Only 2 D-men in history have had more points through their first 50 postseason games: Bobby Orr (20-46—66) and Brian Leetch (21-44—65).
— Sam Carchidi (@BroadStBull) June 13, 2022
Colorado has seven players who have produced double-digits in points: Makar, MacKinnon (18), Gabe Landeskog (17), Mikko Rantanen (17),Nazem Kadri (14), Devon Toews (13), and Artturi Lehkonen (11). (Kadri and Andrew Cogliano have been injured, but Bednar said they have not been ruled out for Game 1.)
If you like balance, you will love the Avs. Nine different Avs have scored game-winning goals in the 2022 playoffs.
Goaltending: The Avs have two choices in goal, and neither is as attractive as the all-world Vasilevskiy. It’s likely that Darcy Kuemper and Pavel “Franky” Francouz will both see lots of time in the series.
In the playoffs, Kuemper is 6-2 with a 2.65 GAA and .897 save percentage. Francouz is 6-0 with a 2.86 GAA and .906 save percentage. He played well after Kuemper suffered a lower-body injury early in the conference finals against Edmonton.
Ex-Flyers factor: Right winger Nic Aube-Kubel, who had 11 regular-season goals for Colorado after being claimed off waivers in November, hasn’t scored in 11 playoff games but is plus-2 and had been one of the Avs’ most physical players.
Bottom line: Tampa Bay has played three more playoff games than the Avs this year, and you wonder of it will wear down the Lightning. That said, the Bolts have a big edge in goaltending. Will Colorado’s offensive depth be able to solve Vasilevskiy?
Just enough, it says here. But I wouldn’t bet the house against it. It’s difficult betting against a team with so much poise and talent as Tampa, but …
Prediction: Colorado in seven. This series should be a classic.