Avs or Bolts for Cup glory?
by Andrew Podnieks|15 JUN 2022
Tampa Bay Lightning players skate in Denver during a practice before Game 1 of the Stanley Cup Finals against the Colorado Avalanche.
photo: David Zalubowski / AP Photo / Keystone
The 2022 Stanley Cup finals begins on Wednesday evening, and it is one of the most anticipated matchups in recent history. It pits the Tampa Bay Lightning, looking to win for the third time in a row, against the Colorado Avalanche, hoping to win for the first time since 2001. Herewith are some key elements to the series and what to look for in this best-of-seven.

How They Got Here

Colorado certainly had the easier and more impressive run to the final round of the playoffs. They swept Nashville in four games, needed six to eliminate St. Louis, and then swept the Oilers in four. Just 14 games played to date. In fact, that’s a record for the fewest games needed to get to the finals (since the playoff format went to four rounds of best-of-seven in 1987). The Avs are trying to chase a most remarkable record. The 1988 Oilers went 16-2 to win the Cup, their 18 total games the fewest of the 4 x 7 era. Tampa Bay needed seven to get by the Maple Leafs in the first round, swept Florida, but then needed six games to take out the Rangers for a grand total of 17. 

High Drama

The Lightning, on the other hand, have gone into overtime only once, that a crucial game six win against Toronto to stay alive in that series. Colorado has gone to extra time four times, winning three – a game two win over Nashville to take control of that series; a win and a loss against St. Louis; and then a defining 6-5 come-from-behind win to eliminate Edmonton in game four.


The coaches reflect their team’s success. Jon Cooper is behind the Tampa bench, as he has been for nearly a decade. He also led Canada to a silver medal at the 2017 IIHF Ice Hockey World Championship and had been named Canada’s coach for the 2022 Olympics had NHL players participated. He’ll be going up against Jared Bednar, who is completing his sixth season with the Avs. They missed the playoffs his first year but have been to the post-season each year since, losing in the second round the last three seasons.


Pretty much anyone in the game will say Lightning goaltender Andrei Vasilevski is the best in the world right now. The 27-year-old has played all nine of his NHL years with the Bolts and has dominated in the last two playoffs, leading the team to victory both times and winning the Conn Smythe Trophy last year. This playoffs is no different. He looked most vulnerable in the opening round against Toronto but has been getting better and better since. Perhaps most impressively, he plays better the bigger the game and the closer his team is to victory. In the last round against the Rangers, for instance, he allowed three goals in game one, two goals in game two, and then one goal in the next four games, all victories.

At the other end, Bednar is in a quandary. His number-one goalie, Darcy Kuemper, has been injured but should be available for the first game of the finals. However, in his absence Pavel Francouz has been perfect, winning all six games he’s played. Francouz is hot and has the momentum, but on the year he has played behind Kuemper. Either decision will be a bit of a gamble for Bednar.

The Studs

Colorado has Nathan MacKinnon and Cale Makar. Tampa Bay has Steven Stamkos and Nikita Kucherov. These four have put on brilliant performances night in, night out for three rounds of playoff hockey, and much of the anticipation comes from seeing how the best of the best will match against each other. MacKinnon and Makar have produced more jaw-dropping, highlight-reel goals while the Tampa pair have produced more dramatic goals that have kept the team in the playoffs one game after another.

Perry Power

Many have said Corey Perry is past his prime and is too old to play, but he has been in the Cup finals the last three years with three different teams. In 2020 he was with Dallas, losing to Cooper’s Lightning, and last year he was with Montreal, again losing to the Bolts. In the off-season, he must have decided, if you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em. And he has. His only Cup win came back in 2007, with Anaheim. He is the only member of the Triple Gold Club in the finals (TGC member #27), and no matter which team wins, the TGC will not be welcoming a new member to the fraternity. TGC member #30 was, however, welcomed a couple of weeks ago when Finland’s Valtteri Filppula won World Championship gold.

15 Going On 16?

We’re not talking games needed to win the Stanley Cup – we’re talking consecutive playoff series won. And that happens to be Patrick Maroon. He was part of St. Louis’s run to their first ever Cup in 2019, then joined TB for the last three years. So, he has now won his last 15 consecutive playoff series. Pretty incredible.

Injured Stars

Nazem Kadri was having the playoffs of his life until he was cross-checked into the boards by Edmonton’s Evander Kane and required hand surgery. Up til that time, Kadri was scoring and playing with that trademark, much-needed playoff sandpaper, and the full effects of his loss, if he doesn’t return, won’t be felt until this finals series gets going. Tampa Bay, meanwhile, has been without Brayden Point, a tremendous playoff performer the last two years, since game seven of the Toronto series. Coach Cooper, though, says it’s “extremely probable” Point will play in the finals. Edge to the Lightning if Point returns and Kadri doesn’t.


When the Avs and Lightning both missed the playoffs five years ago, many players from both teams flew to Paris and Cologne for the World Championship. Cooper coached Canada, and the team included MacKinnon playing alongside current rivals Brayden Point and Alex Killorn. Canada went to the finals only to lose in a shootout to Sweden in the gold-medal game, a Swedish team that included Tampa defender Victor Hedman. Vasilevski played for Russia that year, winning bronze, and France’s lineup included TB’s Pierre-Edouard Bellemare.

This ‘n’ That

  • The last time a team won the Cup three years running was the New York Islanders four decades ago (1980-83).
  • Connor McDavid is trying to do something only one other player has done before – lead the playoffs in scoring without playing in the finals. The only other player to do this was Peter Forsberg, who did it twice, in 1999 and 2002. Currently, the closest player to McDavid who will be playing in the finals is Kucherov. He has 23 points while McDavid exited with 33.
  • Avs captain Gabriel Landeskog is hoping to make his own kind of history. The Swede would love to join Nicklas Lidstrom (Detroit, 2008), Zdeno Chara (Boston, 2011) and Alex Ovechkin (Washington, 2018) as the only European captains to hoist the Cup.
  • Alex Newhook is also out for history. At 21 he is the youngest member of the Avs, and the Newfoundlander is hoping to become only the third player from his home province to win the Cup. Dan Cleary was the first, with Detroit in 2008, and three years later Michael Ryder did it with Boston.
  • Five of the eight series to start the 2022 playoffs went to seven games. Then, only one of the next four went the distance, and the two Conference finals were settled ahead of the maximum. Only one of the last ten finals has gone the distance, and that was in 2019 with the Blues beating Boston in seven.