After several seasons with at least one surprise Stanley Cup finalist (Nashville in 2017, Vegas in 2018, Dallas in 2020, Montreal in 2021, and even St. Louis in 2019), Cinderella’s invite for the championship ball got lost in the mail. The 2022 Stanley Cup final, pitting the Tampa Bay Lightning versus the Colorado Avalanche, might be hockey’s greatest championship matchup since the Edmonton Oilers and New York Islanders met for the title in 1984.
While Colorado might not have won a Presidents Trophy, they were clearly the top team in the Western Conference all season. The Avalanche absolutely blitzed their three opponents en route to the finals, sweeping Nashville and Edmonton, and almost doing the same to the St. Louis Blues.
Meanwhile, Tampa Bay is gunning for its third straight Stanley Cup—an unprecedented feat in the NHL’s salary cap era. While the Lightning were fully deserving of their past two titles, the franchise can cement its legacy by capturing another Cup after the first full season since 2018-19.
Certainly, Tampa Bay vs. Colorado has a chance to be one of the greatest Stanley Cup final series ever. Here is my prediction for the championship round. You can also read my predictions for the NHL’s Division Semifinals, Division Finals, and Conference Finals.
The two-time defending champion Lightning enter the finals on a roll, having won four straight games against the playoffs’ biggest surprise, the New York Rangers. Over the past three postseasons, Tampa Bay has proven they can win in any style of game their opponent wants to play. When they need to win a low-scoring game against a team like the Rangers, they can rely on superb blue liners Victor Hedman (14 points), Ryan McDonagh, and Mikhail Sergachev, as well as the top goaltender in the world, Andrej Vasilevskiy (12-5-0, 2.27 goals against average, .928 save percentage). When the need to win a high-scoring contest against a team like Toronto or Florida, they have talents like Nikita Kucherov (team-leading 16 assists and 23 points to lead all active scorers) and captain Steven Stamkos (team-leading nine goals). When they need to win a tight-checking contest, they can send out checking forwards like Anthony Cirelli, Corey Perry, Ross Colton, Nicolas Paul, and Brandon Hagel. Tampa Bay will likely need to deploy all three styles of play to defeat the fastest squad they’ve ever faced in the finals—Colorado. However, with 11 straight series victories in the belt, it’s very hard to pick against the Lightning in the finals.
Much like Tampa Bay in the late 2010s, Colorado has been on the cusp of greatness for the last couple of years, only to fall short in the second round of the playoffs. However, with a slightly retooled roster, the Avalanche steamrolled the Western Conference this postseason, losing just two games en route to the finals. Colorado reminds me of Los Angeles’ fabled run during the 2012 playoffs. If that keeps up, Tampa Bay is in trouble. The Avs’ dominance has come on the back of defenseman Cale Makar (team-leading 22 points, and 17 assists to lead all active playoff scorers), who is the clear favorite to win the Conn Smythe Trophy. Throughout the Conference finals Makar and Devon Toews continuously shut down Edmonton superstars Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl, transitioning play the other direction with lightning speed. Per usual, Colorado’s top line of Nathan MacKinnon (team-leading 11 goals), Mikko Rantanen, and Gabriel Landeskog, have been terrific throughout the postseason. However, the difference for the Avalanche this spring has been the play of support players like Artturi Lehkonen, J.T. Compher, Valeri Nichushkin, and defenseman Josh Manson. If there is a concern for Colorado going into the finals, it is in goal. While neither is Vasilevskiy, a healthy Darcy Kuemper and the red-hot Pavel Francouz are Jared Bednar’s options for trying to slow down the Lightning.
Stanley Cup Finals Prediction
I expect the Avalanche to attempt a fast, up-tempo style of play, while the Lightning will try to slow things down throughout the series. Colorado is rested, and should be able to play its game in this series, despite Hedman and other Tampa Bay defenders’ best efforts. The X-factor clearly comes down to goaltending. Colorado scored at will against weaker netminders in the previous three series, but the Avalanche could get frustrated facing Vasilevsky. At the same time, Kuemper and Francouz cannot allow the goals they did against the Oilers at times in that series. It should be an epic series, and I like Colorado to outlast Tampa Bay in seven games.