The Tampa Bay Lightning are trying to do what no team has done since 1983. The Colorado Avalanche are seeking a return to the top for the first time in 21 years.
The teams are the last two standing in the NHL.
Either the Lightning will win their third straight Stanley Cup or the Avalanche will hoist it for the first time since 40-year-old Ray Bourque’s journey to the title culminated with his only championship.
The Stanley Cup Final begins with Game 1 in Denver on Wednesday night in a matchup of experience vs. determination. Tampa Bay’s roster is loaded with players who have been to this level before while the Avalanche are in fairly new territory.
“They’re just a team that knows how to win at this point. They’ve done it the last two years, and they’re on the verge of doing it again,” Colorado defenseman Devon Toews said. “Any of those teams, they’ve been through countless times of adversity and different situations that they’ve had to face, and each time, they kind of come out of it. So, that’s something we’re going to have to key in on.”
The most playoff experience on the Avalanche sits in the front office and helped build this team. General manager and vice president Joe Sakic captained the 1996 and 2001 teams that won the cup.
The only players on the Avalanche who have won titles are forwards Andre Burakovsky (2018 with Washington) and Darren Helm (2008 with Detroit).
Sakic has put together a potent, deep offense and a defensive corps that rivals any in the league, led by 23-year-old Norris Trophy finalist Cale Makar, who leads the team in playoff scoring (five goals, 17 assists). Nathan MacKinnon (11 goals, seven assists) is scoring despite being the focus of every team’s game plan.
Colorado’s chances of winning will increase if second line center Nazem Kadri can return from thumb surgery. He was playing well before going down in Game 3 of the Western Conference finals against Edmonton.
He has started skating, as has Andrew Cogliano, who suffered the same injury against the Oilers.
It appears the Avalanche will have top goaltender Darcy Kuemper available after he left Game 1 against Edmonton with an injury and didn’t play again. Backup Pavel Francouz took over and played well, finishing off the sweep.
Avalanche coach Jared Bednar declined to name his starting goaltender on Wednesday morning.
Kuemper, however, was in the starter’s net during the morning skate in Denver.
The Lightning are dealing with their own injuries.
Center Brayden Point hasn’t played since Game 7 of the first round due to a lower-body injury, but coach Jon Cooper sounded optimistic about Point’s chances of playing in the series opener.
“Pointer looks like he’s a go,” Cooper said Wednesday after the team’s morning skate.
Tampa Bay overcame Point’s injury, beating Toronto on the road in Game 7, sweeping the Florida Panthers, who won the Presidents’ Trophy, and outlasting the New York Rangers in six games in the Eastern Conference finals.
The Lightning can become the first team to win three straight titles since the New York Islanders won the Cup four straight times from 1979-83.
–Field Level Media