Colorado Avalanche vs. Tampa Bay Lightning: Who has the edge, five things to watch and predictions
Who has the edge?
Both teams have two key injured centers but Tampa’s Brayden Point (lower-body injury) will probably play in this series before Colorado’s Nazem Kadri (right thumb) is able to get on the ice. Still, the Avalanche has a relentless top-six attack without Kadri because it can surround Mikko Rantanen with highly capable players on the second line and keep the top line of center Nathan MacKinnon between Gabe Landeskog and Valeri Nichushkin intact. Because of Andre Burakovsky’s maintenance days, Colorado has put J.T. Compher and Artturi Lehkonen with Rantanen. But Burakovsky and/or Alex Newhook can also play there to spread the scoring depth to the third line. Colorado loves its fourth line, despite the loss of Andrew Cogliano to a finger injury, because Nico Sturm slots in well with Darren Helm and Logan O’Connor. Tampa’s top line of Steven Stamkos between Ondrej Palat and Nikita Kucherov is unquestionably elite. But Colorado has the better depth scoring. Edge: Avalanche.
The team with Cale Makar on its side has the advantage, plain and simple. But the Lightning has the best big defenseman in the league with Victor Hedman. He’s a 6-foot-6, 240-pound train with massive experience in the Cup Finals, so that certainly diminishes Makar’s edge. But the Avalanche blue-line has combined to score 14 goals this postseason, compared to just five for the Lightning, and Colorado is the third stingiest team in goals-against-average (2.86). Tampa is second (2.41) but it doesn’t create nearly as much scoring as the Avs’ back end. The Lightning does have the overall size advantage, although Colorado’s “complementary” defensemen Erik Johnson, Josh Manson and Jack Johnson are 225-plus-pound guys who can throw their weight around. Edge: Avalanche.
The Lightning’s Andrei Vasilevskiy is the reigning Conn Smythe Trophy winner as playoff MVP. He also won the 2019 Vezina Trophy as the league’s best goalie. At age 27, he’s in the prime of his career and he leads all goalies with 12 wins this postseason and is second in save percentage (.927) among goalies who advanced past the first round. He’s the king of the Stanley Cup Finals until he loses one. The Avs’ Darcy Kuemper has played in 10 of 14 games with a .897 save percentage. That number won’t be near good enough to beat the Lightning and Vasilevskiy in a seven-game series. But Kuemper is 2-0 against Tampa Bay with Vasilevskiy in net this season, so there’s that. And the Avalanche has the better backup in Pavel Francouz, who has seen action in six playoff games (four starts) compared to Brian Elliott’s zero minutes this postseason. Edge: Lightning
Colorado has the second-best power-play percentage (31.1) in the playoffs and Tampa Bay is a distant eighth (22.6). The Avs’ penalty killing hasn’t been great (75.7%) but they’ve served only 94 penalty minutes — half as much as the Lightning (201). The Bolts are averaging 11:49 penalty minutes a game compared to the Avs’ league-low 6:42. Colorado will undoubtedly try to continue to play highly disciplined and be similarly as dangerous on the power play. Tampa Bay will try to do the same but it hasn’t continuously been able to do that thus far. Edge: Avalanche.
Tampa Bay’s Jon Cooper is seeking his fourth championship as a professional coach. In addition to leading the Lightning to the Stanley Cup the past two seasons, he also coached the Norfolk Admirals to the AHL’s Calder Cup in 2012. Cooper’s winning ways include three junior-league championships with the NAHL’s St. Louis Bandits (2007 and 2008) and the USHL’s Green Bay Gamblers (2010). Colorado’s Jared Bednar has ECHL and AHL championships on his resume, winning the Kelley Cup and Calder Cup with the South Carolina Stingrays (2009) and Lake Erie Monsters (2016). Both Cooper and Bednar never played in the NHL but are known as players’ coaches. Edge: Even.
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