The Stanley Cup Final is finally here and the match is as good as it gets.
This is Tampa Bay Lightning, which is looking for the third consecutive title against Colorado Avalanche, which has been considered a title contender for several seasons. Stephen Stamkos, Andrei Vasilevsky and Nikita Kucherov hunt another ring against Nathan McKinnon, Cale Makar and Gabriel Landesko.
Colorado 12-2 in the postseason, sweeping in the first and third rounds and a 7-0 record on the road. Tampa Bay won six games in the first round in Toronto, defeating the New York Rangers 2-0 in the Eastern Conference final after sweeping the Florida Panthers (Presidential Cup winners).
Los Angeles Times hockey editor Hans Tesselaar, Times columnist Helene Elliott (Hockey Hall of Fame Award winner) and Times staffers Curtis Zupke, Jim Barrero and Nick Leyva share their thoughts on the best of the seven series that began at the roundtable. Wednesday in Denver.
What are the biggest keys to this series?
obstacle: Experience against hunger. Can the hunger for the first trophy for this group of Colorado Avalanche players undoubtedly outweigh the playoff experience, which will be a factor for double defending champion Tampa Bay Lightning? It will be interesting to see, because it is one of the most attractive Final matches after a while. Conquering MacKinnon, Connor McDavid, and Oilers with a broom, it seems, is on a mission. How do you slow it down? A player like Anthony Cirelli will probably try for Lightning. Can he play a role similar to Phillip Danault for Montreal in last season’s playoffs? How will Nazem Kadri’s injury and Colorado goalkeeper’s condition affect him?
Leyva: The biggest may be the depth of attack that Avalanche has shown all season. The question is whether Tampa Bay may include an attack by Colorado, as it certainly does not intend to stop it. Avalanche’s overall team speed will be a big factor. From the first line to the fourth line, Colorado fits in well with everything Yildirim can do, especially if Brayden Point is not his usual situation. Moreover, Colorado, with Makar, has an advantage on the blue line; only in terms of Victor Hedman is there anything close to Makar-type talent.
Zupke: What is a hockey cliché, should your best players be your best players? This will determine which stars will take over the games: Vasilevskiy, Kucherov and Point for playoff hero Tampa Bay (according to this post, Point was expected to be available in at least Game 2). For Colorado, of course, it’s McKinnon, Landeskog, and Makar – my God, how good is Makar?
Elliott: One key will be whether Colorado is rusty after such a long time. The experience is never as intense as a real game.
Colorado rested for seven days after sweeping Nashville in the first round. They have not played since June 6. How many factors will this be?
Zupke: Hockey players are the most extreme habits in sports. They like to play every day, usually with a morning skate and a puck at the same time, so I think there is something to sit on for a very long time. Having said that, I think that during the first few rounds of the first game, any rust there will be destroyed.
obstacle: I do not think this will be a factor. Avalanche made it to the playoffs and has already struggled for a long time after sweeping Nashville and then beating St. Louis in extra time in Game 1 of the next series. I have no doubt that Colorado will not be able to reach the cup final with this group in the end.
Leyva: I don’t think it will be very important, but if Yildirim wanted to take advantage of stealing a game at the Ball Arena, it would be Game 1. In addition, due to the problems of COVID-19, this season is full of long layoffs and tight schedules, so this team can get used to sitting in their hands more than others. But you never know, I remember the ducks were out of work for about two weeks before the 2003 Cup Final with New Jersey, and we all know how the series turned out.
We know that last season’s playoff MVP winner Conn Smythe Trophy winner Vasilevsky will score for Tampa Bay. Who will be in the other network? Darcy Cuemper is Avalanche’s number one goalkeeper, but he missed the last three games of the Western Conference final against Edmonton due to an injury to his upper back. Whether or not Cuemper is ready to play, will Colorado stay with Pavel Francouz, who is 6-0 in the playoffs?
obstacle: Cuemper is back to be a backup for Francouz in Game 4 against the Oilers, so I think you’re committed to what he’s been working on lately. Let Francouz give you a reason to eliminate it, and if he does, you know you have a good choice. Colorado should take this as a good problem and not allow it to become a burden.
Leyva: If you can believe the news from the Denver Post, Quemper is ready to leave on Wednesday night. But if he can’t go, Avalanche doesn’t lose much with Francouz on the net. He’s a solid reserve player and you certainly don’t need a goalkeeper to steal a 1-0 game with Colorado’s firepower.
Elliott: Having so much rest allowed Cuemper to recover from his upper body … and that’s a good thing. Coach Jared Bednar (who played for Roller Hockey International’s long-gone Anaheim Bullfrogs for a short time) said he would choose the starting lineup based on his work, but it is likely that Cuemper will win the honor.
No team has won the Cup three times in a row since the New York Islanders won four times in a row from 1980 to 1983. If Tampa Bay can do that, how effective will it be?
Elliott: If Tampa Bay wins the Cup for the third consecutive season, the word “dynasty” should be in the conversation. They won under a salary cap that no other three-time winner had faced, played with a pandemic, and torpedoed the league’s revenue. And they are still far from finishing their work, the key players are still in good shape and their talents are still flowing.
obstacle: Extremely impressive. When it was easy to lose focus and subconsciously settle for back-to-back Cups, Yildirim really opened my eyes during this run. When you think the tank is about to empty, they find a way to take their game one step further. Probably give credit to the experience of the last two seasons, but it’s worth appreciating the mental fatigue it takes to continue to win at this level for a long time. The team has won 11 consecutive playoffs. It’s just wild. And we haven’t mentioned how difficult it is to keep a talented team together in the NHL under payroll rules.
Zupke: Helene explained this in detail in a column on Tuesday. I would just like to add that by surrounding the Kings with your own “mini-dynasty”, you not only need to have the physical / mental strength and creative GM to withstand talent, short summers, but also a lot. to go to the right, that is, to stay healthy. (Funny, I remember when Kings lost Mike Richards during the Chicago series in 2013, a prominent national writer called me and said, “They cook anyway.”) No matter how good the Kings and Blackhawks were in the early 2010s, none of them won the Cup three times in a row.
Leyva: It would be an amazing feat, especially if you consider that we are in the pay period and that Yildirim has not lost much in the last two years. GM Julien BriseBois did an excellent job of finding the role players needed for a solid roster, but let’s not forget Steve Yzerman’s contributions. I think COVID-19 was great at overcoming bubble problems, and then succeeding in non-bubble seasons makes it even more impressive.
Avalanche is considered unsuccessful with losses in the second round for three consecutive seasons. Is this label now a thing of the past, or do you need to win them all?
Elliott: I firmly believe that a team must go through a sad loss or other disappointment in a season before winning the trophy. The Islanders lost to the Toronto and New York Rangers in two seasons before starting four Cups. The Oilmen lost to the Islanders in 1983 before winning four times in five seasons and five times in seven seasons. I think Colorado has experienced these experiences and is ready to win them all if its goal continues. They were well-designed, developed deep enough, and added the missing physical element by getting Josh Manson from the Ducks during the trade.
obstacle: I think they have to win it all to really delete the label. It will not be enough to just get there with such a talented group. If they don’t do it now, I’m afraid it’s not just meant to be on this team. But, man, what a difficult task against such a talented opponent. If they still fail, years later no one will remember who they played with, they just won’t remember who they lost. It may be an unfair assessment, but it is the reality of how history treats such teams.
Leyva: I think they have to win this season to shake that label. The MacKinnon-Mikko Rantanen-Landeskog car doesn’t rejuvenate at all, and fast teams like Colorado lose one step as they do each season. It’s Avalanche time.
Well, after all, who lifts the Cup?
obstacle: I have to stick with the choice I made before the playoffs, and this is Avalanche. This is finally their year. They do it in six games. MacKinnon won the John Smythe Trophy and took it over Makar, whom I chose before the playoffs.
Leyva: Give me Colorado in seven games. I don’t think Tampa Bay can keep up with this team, and it doesn’t seem to have the depth needed to slow it down. Regardless of which goalkeeper is the goalkeeper for Avalanche, I think Vasilevsky will have a hand in this game. It takes Vasilevsky’s superhuman effort to defeat Colorado. If the injured Nazem Kadri can generally be effective, Colorado will be tougher.
Elliott: Starring Makar, Colorado at six.
Zupke: It’s Colorado’s time, isn’t it? There is a lot of talent there. They can slide any person out of the building. But I still think you’re a champion until someone knocks you down, and I like Vasilevsky, so I’ll go to Tampa Bay at seven. How do I hedge my lentils?