(Photo Credit: @Sportsnet on Twitter)
The greatest playoff tournament in all of sports has reached its final stage. The Colorado Avalanche will face the back-to-back Stanley Cup champions, The Tampa Bay Lightning. It's a tale of two tapes. The Colorado Avalanche will be making their first appearance in the Stanley Cup Finals since 2001, while the Tampa Bay lightning will be making their 3rd straight finals appearance, a feat that hasn't been done since the 1983-85 Edmonton Oilers. The Lightning are looking to accomplish what the Oilers could not, and that's win 3 consecutive Stanley Cups.
If the Lightning were to pull this off, we would be witnessing a dominance the NHL has not seen since the 1980-84 New York Islanders when they made it to five straight Stanley Cup Finals and won four in a row, losing to the aforementioned Edmonton Oilers in 1984. The only team in the last twelve years to come close to the success of the Lightning, is the 2010-15 Chicago Blackhawks, when they won three Stanley Cups in 6 years, a Presidents' Trophy in 2013, and 4 Western Conferences appearances in that span.
The Tampa Bay Lightning could very well replace the Blackhawks as the next big dynasty in the NHL. Since their loss to the Chicago Blackhawks in the 2015 Stanley Cup Finals, they have won back-to-back Stanley Cups, and won a Presidents' Trophy back in 2019, which tied an NHL record with the 1995-96 Detroit Red Wings for most wins in a single season with 62.
You truly have to commend Tampa Bay's coach Jon Cooper for the complete turnaround this franchise had. They went from having a season we haven't seen in a two decades, to being swept in the first round in that same year by the Columbus Blue Jackets, to then winning two straight Stanley cups, and now a chance at three in a row. it truly is a remarkable accomplishment, most teams wouldn't be able to recover from such an embarrassing series loss, but this team turned it into three straight Stanley Cup Final appearances. All coming relatively easily, as they that have been the consensus best team in the NHL since.
The Lightning defeated the Rangers 2-1 in Saturday's game six matchup. the two goals coming off the stick of their superstar captain Steven Stamkos. The Lightning struggled early on this series losing the first two games to be down 2-0, but they quickly found their groove and won the next four in a row to advance to the Stanley Cup Finals. there was a bit of controversy in game six with Stamkos's second goal that ended up being the game winner. Stamkos drove to the net hard and snapped a quick wrist shot that was initially saved by New York's Vezina Trophy finalist goalie, Igor Shesterkin. The puck was in the air and deflected off a Stamkos' leg and went into the net. There was some uproar that there may have been some goalie interference as Stamkos did slightly make contact with Shesterkin's glove, and that the goal shouldn't count because of it possibly be an intentional deflection. But if you watch the goal. Stamkos was coming in with such speed that he clearly didn't intentionally kick that puck in the net, ending up being a good goal and was the deciding factor in that game.
The 2022 Stanley Cup Finals should be a very entertaining series, as both teams are no stranger to the back of the net. The only huge difference is the goaltending. Darcy Kuemper of the Avalanche is a solid goalie, but he isn't a game changer. He can make you some saves but he won't win you many games with outstanding performances because he simply isn't that type of player. Andrei Vasilevskiy on the other hand is by far the best goalie I've ever watched, and I've watched goalies like Jonathan Quick of the Los Angeles Kings, and Carey Price of the Montreal Canadiens, and none have come close to the sheer dominance of Andrei Vasilevskiy. He comes up big when the teams need him the most.
In his last eight series-clinching wins, Vasilevskiy has 0.25 goals against average, a .991 save percentage, and 6 shutouts. you can make the case that since he replaced Ben Bishop as the Lightnings starting goaltender in 2017, that he already is a top 10 goalie of all time. It truly is hard to put into words how dominant he really is, must-watch television does not even do it justice. There is a reason he has coined the nickname "Big Cat" Standing at 6'3, 225 pounds, he has the size and the reflexes of some of the world's most ferocious wild felines.
All that said I think it will be a close, high scoring series, but inevitably I believe it will be the Lightning who wins in six games, winning their third CONSECUTIVE Stanley Cup.