With the ECF tied at 2 apiece and the Avs having punched their ticket to the Cup Final, what better time to ask Avs faithful who would you rather face. To me, any discussion BEFORE Avs punched their ticket was premature, risking the wrath of the proverbial hockey gods. Here is my take and eyeball analysis, having watched virtually all playoff games this year.
Rangers: Discussed as ahead of their time, playing above their heads and their youth is coming through, especially the "Kid Line", while supported by solid D and high-end scoring.
Forwards: Experience, high-end talent that can skate, create, and finish. Names like Zibanejad, Kreider, and Panarin are well known to anyone reading this post. Depth scoring is coming in bunches from third line, the Kid Line with Chytil, Lafreniere, and Kakko growing up and maturing during playoff season. Other veteran depth forwards of note: Strome, Goodrow, and Vatrano.
Defensemen: IMO, the only defenseman in the same playoff discussion this year with Cale Makar is Adam Fox. He has been electric. Miller is a youngster growing up fast and will be a force to recon with this season and for the next ten. Trouba is known as hard-hitting, dirty if you will, and Avs will need to have their heads-up when he is on the ice.
Goalie: Starts and ends with Shesterkin. Vezina finalist that has been mostly just as impressive in play-offs as regular season, although he has had a couple bad games.
Tamps Bay: No doubting the experience and championship mettle that comes with TBL. They are an older team, skate a bit slower than Rangers, but play as solid of a defensive system as any team in this year's play-offs.
Forwards: The names and exploits are a recent whos-whos of the recent NHL: Stamkos, Palat, Point (expected back on ice soon), and Kucherov. Their depth is experienced, with enough new pieces like Nick Paul to still be hungry. We know Bellemare and add Cirelli, Hagel, Killorn and, god save us if he's the difference, Corey Perry.
Defensemen: It starts with Hedman, still one of the top three d-men in entire league year-in-and year-out.though Oddly, he might only be the third best D remaining in the play-offs, but still very, very good! I'm not as sold on some of the others chewing up ice time: Foote has been up and down; McDonagh can be beat, Chernak can be a force at times.
Goalie: Not much I can say about Vasilevsky that hasn't already been said. He has been exposed a bit this post-season, dare I say human at times, with the high blocker shot famously hitting the back of the net 19 times this post-season. Still one of the very best and can put up a shutout and steal a game on any given night.
As you might guess, I am choosing the Avs over either opponent. The team I would like us to see in the Finals:
Tampa Bay. You have to beat the best to be the best, and I believe Avs can get this done. I believe Avs can outskate, outscore, and out-defend the reigning two-time champs, and find that high blocker side often enough to win in five.
Hit me up in the comments on your choice and reason.