Pretty much from the time that the Colorado Avalanche were eliminated from the 2021 Stanley Cup playoffs, the NHL picks were favoring them to finally return to the top of the NHL mountain.
Other than a change in net, the team looked very much like the one expected to contend for the franchise’s first NHL title since 2001. Even though the Florida Panthers finished with more points than Colorado, it was the Avalanche that was favored to win it all throughout the 2021-22 campaign.
According to the NHL playoff odds, Colorado winning in six games leads the way at +350 followed by a seven-game win for the Avalanche (+375). Colorado winning the series in five games carries better odds than any scenario with Tampa Bay winning.
The series price favors the Avalanche (-170) heading into Wednesday’s Game 1.
Let’s look at how the Avalanche can win the Stanley Cup for the first time since 2001.
Cream Rises to the Top
Colorado scored 25 more goals than Tampa Bay during the regular season and won 32 games at home. With the first two games in Denver and, if necessary, Game 7 also on Colorado’s home ice, that could be enough for an Avalanche team that has been knocking on the championship door.
Colorado has looked every bit the part of the team to beat during the postseason. The Avalanche won the opening game of their first three series and never faced an elimination game.
Nathan MacKinnon, Gabriel Landeskog and Mikko Rantanen have been teammates for the last seven seasons. They have accomplished just about everything with the notable exception of skating around the ice with Lord Stanley’s Cup over their heads.
Colorado tops all teams in the playoffs with an average of 4.6 goals per game. They have eight more shots on goal per game in the postseason than Tampa Bay.
The Avalanche have just as many power-play goals (14) as Tampa Bay, but have done it with 17 fewer opportunities with the man advantage, so don’t be surprised if the Avalanche capitalizes when Tampa Bay heads to the penalty box.
Artturi Lehkonen, Valeri Nichushkin and J.T. Compher combined for 16 goals in 14 playoff games, which is a key part of why Colorado is favored in the series.
Makar Making an Impact
The current Conn Smythe Trophy favorite according to the Las Vegas odds is Colorado 23-year-old defenseman Cale Makar.
In his role as a studio analyst during the playoffs, NHL all-time leading scorer Wayne Gretzky has said that Makar might impact the game more in both the offensive and defensive zones than any defenseman he has seen since Boston Bruins legend Bobby Orr. That is quite the praise from The Great One.
Makar has looked like the best player in the playoffs. He leads Colorado with 17 assists, 22 points, seven power-play assists and eight points on the power play.
Makar is on the ice for more than 27 minutes per game. In contests not decided early on, Makar’s playing time has inched near 30 minutes.
Tampa Bay will try to be physical with Makar, but it can be hard to hit a player if you can’t catch him.
Legs Feed the Wolf
Legendary coach Herb Brooks had a saying that the “Legs Feed the Wolf.” What that means is the team with the fresher legs late in games will be the one to be celebrating.
Colorado has played three fewer games than Tampa Bay has during the playoffs. The Lightning just wrapped up a tough six-game series against the New York Rangers while Colorado has had more than a week off after sweeping the Edmonton Oilers.
While there could be some rust to shake off early in Game 1, the Avalanche should benefit at some point in the series from those extra days off.
There were times when the younger players from the Rangers made the Lightning look a step slow. And with just five of their top 18 skaters 30 years old or above, there could be plenty of fresh legs for Colorado in this series.
It is Colorado’s Time
The Tampa Bay Lightning admitted that a four-game sweep at the hands of the Columbus Blue Jackets in 2019 set the stage for this current run of postseason success.
It has been said that a team can’t get to the top of their respective sport without suffering a bit during the journey. Well, Colorado finished second in the Western Conference during the 2019-20 season and tied for first a season ago. Each time, the Avalanche were eliminated before reaching the Stanley Cup Finals.
Colorado was able to keep most of the group together for another chance to win the Stanley Cup for the first time since 2001.
It can’t be disputed that Tampa Bay has much more playoff and Stanley Cup Finals experience than the Avalanche. Colorado’s Andre Burakovsky and Darren Helm are the only players on the roster with experience on NHL championship teams. However, the experience gained from frustrating playoff exits has made this Avalanche team one hungry group.
— NHL Network (@NHLNetwork) June 15, 2022
Reinforcements on Way?
While much will be made about Tampa Bay expected to get center Brayden Point back for this series, there is a chance that Colorado will also be receiving good news on the injury front.
Forwards Nazem Kadri and Andrew Cogliano have a chance to play in the series.
Kadri hasn’t played since a hit by Evander Kane in Game 3 against Edmonton knocked him out of that series. Cogliano was able to play in all the contests against Edmonton and, like Kadri, he is listed as day-to-day.
Kadri had 87 points during the regular season. His emergence as a productive second-line center has taken some of the offensive burden off MacKinnon, Landeskog and Rantanen.
Cogliano is one of four Avalanche players with previous Stanley Cup Finals experience and that can’t be discounted at this time of the year.