3. Tampa Bay Lightning vs. 1. Colorado Avalanche
The Lightning are trying to do something that hasn’t been done in the NHL since 1980-83 when the New York Islanders won four straight Stanley Cup titles. Tampa Bay is trying to go for their third consecutive.
This is something that is pretty much unheard of this day and age. The core of Tampa’s roster has remained unchanged for the most part during this run. Steven Stamkos, Nikita Kucherov, Victor Hedman and Andrei Vasilevskiy are still playing at an elite level and have been mainstays for many years. Ondrej Palat has been around for some time as well and he will likely cash in when he’s a free agent in the offseason. The Lightning have had to go through some tough opponents to get here. Toronto was a grueling 7-game series. They handled Florida with a 4-game sweep. New York had a 2-0 series lead, but Tampa Bay won the next four. Their stifling defense in this years playoffs has been something to watch. Just another reason they have won the last two titles.
For Colorado this has been a quest for validation as they have been expected to get here the last two seasons. They swept Nashville in the first round. Had a bit of a challenge against St. Louis that went to six games. Then they swept Edmonton in the Conference Finals. Their top line with Nathan McKinnon, Mikko Rantanen and Gabriel Landeskog has been a juggernaut for many years. They’ll be put to the test against Tampa Bay. Cale Makar has shown why he is probably the best all-around defenseman in hockey today. He’s had a solid line-mate in Devon Toews which they’ve proved to be a devastating pair. If Nazem Kadri can make a return for the Final that will help the Avalanche’s chances. Will Darcy Kuemper make a return in net or will they stay with Pavel Francouz? This franchise has accomplished their first step of getting to the Final, but I don’t know that they can finish it without being completely healthy.
Players to Watch: G Andrei Vasilevskiy and D Cale Makar
Who Wins: Lightning in 7 games