Now that the Colorado Avalanche has a dance partner in the Tampa Bay Lightning the stage has been set for the biggest series of the year and with the greatest prize at the end — the Stanley Cup. We offer some final thoughts and predictions before the highly anticipated puck drop tonight.
What has to go right for the Avalanche to win their first Cup since 2001?
Adrian: If the Avalanche want a real shot at winning this cup, they will have to “trust the process” as Head Coach Jared Bednar put it. They are just one series win from legitimizing that process in the eyes of the hockey world, but it won’t come easy. Tampa is far and away the most formidable opponent they have faced in the postseason. If the Avalanche can stay true to their identity and play for one another, it’s parade time.
Evan: Attack Andrei Vasilevskiy and clean up the mistakes. The Bolts have the best goaltender in the world and he is a monster on the ice. Of course, we’ve seen what he can do in an elimination game and overall he has been spectacular. If the Avs can get traffic in front of him and have redirections, it will be the best shot of beating him rather than scoring cleanly. And finally, if the Avs can keep hold of the puck cleanly and dominate possession, they will have a phenomenal chance to lift the cup.
Jackie: It hasn’t been much of a factor up to this point, and likely a reason for their success, but win the special teams battle and keep as much of the game at 5v5 as possible. The Avalanche are also going to need a special moment or two from their special players. A lot of different guys have stepped up, and championship teams need that, but the big guns have to shine under the bright lights.
Ezra: The second line has to produce offense. Whether Kadri can come back or not, this team needs production from the middle of the lineup to finish this thing out. Nate and Cale are gonna get theirs, and Landy, Lehky, and Toews will too, but the versions of Mikko Rantanen and Andre Burakovsky that show up this round are going to dictate who wins this series. Mikko woke up against Edmonton, but if he reverts to St. Louis Rantanen and Burakovsky never shows up the Avalanche are in real trouble.
Eddie: Similar to the top lines goal in the Conference Finals against Connor McDavid, Darcy Kuemper needs to do his best to break even with Andrei Vasilevskiy. Vasilevskiy willl always be Tampa Bay’s biggest advantage over any other team and if the Avalanche want a chance at defeating the back-to-back champs they are going to need to do their best to minimize said threat. The best way to do that is have Kuemper do his best at going toe to toe with Vasilevskiy and have the players in front of him create and finish on as many chances as possible.
Jacob: There’s a lot of talk about Andrei Vasilevsky in this series for good reason, he’s already one of the greatest big-game goaltenders of all time, but Avalanche goaltending will be just as big a factor, if not bigger. The Avs have slightly more forward depth and a more dynamic back-end, and if Darcy Kuemper and/or Pavel Francouz can come close to matching Vasilevsky’s output in net, that could be enough to neutralize the Lightning’s biggest advantage in this series.
Who will be one of the unexpected heroes in this final round of the postseason?
Adrian: I said it before the playoffs began and after being spot on, I’ll say it again. JT Compher is a big game guy that finds a way to make an impact inside of Colorado’s most impressive playoff wins. I say that trend continues. I could see him elevating his game even more than he already has with the game’s ultimate prize on the line.
Evan: I think we will see something spectacular out of Bowen Byram. He’s slowly gotten better as the playoffs have gone on. I think he’ll score a big goal in this Stanley Cup Final to propel his team to success. It’s his time to shine, and as a fresh-new 21-year-old, like a lot of people in their young 20s, will have all the confidence in the world to make something happen.
Jackie: I like the Byram pick, I too believe he has a big goal left in him waiting for just the right time. I’ll choose another Av who has yet to score this postseason and that’s Nicolas Aube-Kubel. He potted 11 goals in the regular season so he does have a bit of a random scoring touch that will come out when the opponent least expects it.
Ezra: Every bone in my body is telling me not to say this (yes, my bones talk), but what if Jack Johnson has a hero moment? He’s been shaky back there and I’ve hoped to see Ryan Murray in his place literally every game, but what a story that would be if the camp PTO who everyone in hockey media dunked on for years in New York and Pittsburgh netted an OT winner in Game 3 or something. ...If that happens every reader has to Venmo me $3.
Eddie: Alex Newhook was in and out of the Avalanche’s lineup all post season until injuries hit and he became a mainstay against the Oilers, where his linemates changed every game. Hopefully in the Stanley Cup Final he will get some actual stability and be able to get his mind and play right, and if he does boy is he gonna be a problem for Tampa Bay. The Lightning have struggled with speed so far this post season, their depth especially, and Newhook has all the ability in the world to take advantage of that and be a big player for the Avalanche this series.
Jacob: Bowen Byram is probably the best answer as you can make the case he’s been the Avs’ second best defenseman this postseason, but I’m going to go with the 4th line. They won’t play big minutes this series, but if Logan O’Connor, Darren Helm and Andrew Cogliano/Nico Sturm can continue their dominance of other 4th lines, that could create just enough breaks to swing what should be a very tight series decided on the margins.
Call your shot — which team will win the Stanley Cup and who will take home the Conn Smythe Trophy?
Adrian: IF Nazem Kadri is well enough to play and impact the results I’ll take him as the dark horse Conn Smyth winner. If he can’t go, my money is on Nathan MacKinnon strictly because this is his moment. The one he’s been vying for over his almost a decade-long pro career. He knows opportunities like this don't come often.
Evan: I don’t like the Avs’s chances - IF they fall behind in the series. I don’t want to face an elimination-game Vasy as he’ll shut the Avs down as he has to everyone else. With that being said, if the Avs come out of the first two games with a 2-0 lead they will win this series. While I wish it was on home ice, I say the Avs win in six games with Cale Makar winning the Conn Smythe.
Jackie: I have been predicting six games each round but I could see this series go the distance and provide the ultimate heart-attack-inducing moment which is the game seven for all the marbles. The Avalanche slay the game seven dragon at home and win the Cup. I also choose Cale Makar as the catalyst and the Conn Smythe holder.
Ezra: The Lightning are already a dynasty, and they’re peaking at the right time - it’s going to take an incredibly deep and well-disciplined team to beat them. Fortunately, the Avs are deep and disciplined throughout the lineup and extremely talented at the top end. I’m also taking Colorado in seven games with Makar as MVP - and I think he puts up 14 more points on his way to the trophy. ...y’all better Venmo me $8 if that one comes true. Let’s get spicy!!
Eddie: I believe this series is truly a coin toss so me making a prediction here would me just picking the Avalanche to apease the crowd. I think if this team plays their best game they will absolutely slay the dragon and take the Cup from Tampa, and if they do in fact win I believe it will be in 6. As for the Conn Smythe there are quite a few options to choose from. Cale Makar is the obvious answer here and if the Avalanche win the Cup there’s a very good chance he wins it, barring an amazing series from a MacKinnon or Kadri (if he returns). A dark horse pick I have for the Conn Smythe is Gabe Landeskog, who is third on the Avalanche in points this post season despite battling a knee injury. If Landy has a good series and gets close to Cale in point don’t be surprised if he gets to lift both trophys.
Jacob: You can make a logical case for either team in this series, and the most surprising thing that could happen is if this goes less than 6 games. But since this is an Avalanche blog, how can I not pick the Avs? Like the last time they were in the Stanley Cup Finals, hosting Game 7 in the thin air will prove to be the difference, and Cale Makar will hoist the Conn Smythe Trophy.