Stanley Cup Tampa Bay vs. Colorado
Your GameDay vodka better be on ice, because tonight at 8pm EST two titans face off for Game 1 of the Stanley Cup. The Tampa Bay Lightning is seeking their third straight Stanley Cup title, but they’ll have to get through the Colorado Avalanche first. This matchup is one that hockey fans have been waiting for.
The two best teams in the league colliding in a best-of-seven series to lift the most famous trophy in North American sports is extremely rare to see, especially when it comes to navigating the grueling seven series. While the Panthers won the President’s Trophy for the best regular season, the Avalanche were just 3 points behind. The Lightning, on the other hand, had an incredible 110 points to finish the season, which is not to be ruled out.
It’s been a long journey to this point for the Colorado Avalanche. They have possessed the offensive talent to be a Cup contender for the last three years but have been let down by the goaltending and/or defense in the postseason. That was not a concern this year with Darcy Kuemper and Pavel Francouz combining to backstop Colorado to a 12-2 record so far in the playoffs. The solid goaltending has allowed more attention to be paid to the fantastic arsenal Colorado has on all four lines and three defensive pairings.
At the top of the list of Colorado stars is Cale Makar, who has been an impact player from the moment he suited up for the Avalanche. He came to the team in the middle of the first round in 2019 and scored on his first shot in his first game against his hometown team. Since then, he’s won the Calder Trophy as Rookie of the Year and is the favorite to win the Norris Trophy for Best Defenseman in the league this year. Makar has 22 points in 14 games in the playoffs thus far with five goals and 17 assists to lead all active defensemen.
Focusing too much on Makar and his playmaking ability discredits the players to whom he continues to pass the puck for goals. Nathan MacKinnon has 11 goals and seven assists in the postseason thus far while captain Gabriel Landeskog has scored eight times. Meanwhile, Mikko Rantanen has dished out 12 assists of his own in the playoffs. The question mark for the Avalanche is the health of center Nazem Kadri, who was leveled with an illegal hit from behind in Game 3 against Edmonton and is unlikely to play in the Final despite six goals and eight assists in his 13 appearances this postseason for the Avalanche.
On the other side of the rink is the two-time defending champions with their own set of high-scoring forwards and defensemen. However, the one area where the Lightning have the advantage is in goal with Andrei Vasilevskiy, who is arguably the best goalie in the league. He has a .928 save percentage and 2.27 goals against average in 17 playoff games this year for Tampa Bay. Vasilevskiy has looked vulnerable at times, but he’s still shined in big moments when Tampa needed a stellar performance from its goalie.
Nikita Kucherov’s seven goals and 16 assists give him a playoff-high 23 points so far, and he’s scored 10 of those points while his team is a man up. Steven Stamkos leads the Lightning with nine goals in the postseason, followed closely by Ondrej Palat, who has eight goals and eight assists thus far. It’s been a quiet playoff for Victor Hedman with just two goals and 12 assists, but 14 points from a defenseman is still pretty good. Even though they have good scoring depth, Tampa Bay just doesn’t have the same scoring depth as Colorado, and that secondary scoring may end up deciding the series.
With the potential of games going into the last week of June, be sure to find your local liquor store and pick up a couple of GameDay vodka bottles to put on ice.
Game 1 (at COL): Weds., June 15, 8 ET (ABC, ESPN+)
Game 2 (at COL): Sat., June 18, 8 ET (ABC, ESPN+)
Game 3 (at TB): Mon., June 20, 8 ET (ABC, ESPN+)
Game 4 (at TB): Weds., June 22, 8 ET (ABC, ESPN+)
Game 5* (at COL): Fri., June 24, 8 ET (ABC, ESPN+)
Game 6* (at TB): Sun., June 26, 8 ET (ABC, ESPN+)
Game 7* (at COL): Tues., June 28, 8 ET (ABC, ESPN+)
* If necessary