The 2022 Stanley Cup Final could be decided Friday night in Denver, with the Colorado Avalanche leading 3-1 over the Tampa Bay Lightning.
Who needs to stand up for the Lightning to get the series back to Tampa? Who is Conn Smythe’s favorite? Can Aws win the Cup at home? We asked our hockey experts these questions and more ahead of a possible decider game.
Who will we talk about if the Avs win the 5th game?
Kristen Shilton, NHL correspondent: Cale Makar. If Colorado wins the Stanley Cup on home ice, it will be thanks in large part to Makar’s fantastic performance in the playoffs. From start to finish, he was consistently incredible. The first game of the Cup Final may not have been Makar’s best, but he adjusted to the Lightning’s choke style and reacted accordingly. He is the third postseason scorer (seven goals and 27 points in 18 games) and is strong in every situation (see: shorthanded goals and second game powerplay).
The way he can keep the game going with his superb skating and great awareness is just a new level. We all knew Makar was making the playoffs, but the current Norris Trophy winner turned out to be even better than advertised and will dominate the conversation if it ends in Colorado’s favour.
Greg Wyshinsky, NHL correspondent: Darcy Kemper. Look, I’m the truthful Kemper. When I chose the Avalanche to win this series, I did so in the belief that goaltender Pavel Francouz would eventually take the ball from him against the Lightning. For a minute it looked like this: Kemper lost in Game 3 to the Lightning and scored a negative goal higher than expected for the series. The Lightning’s huge lead in goal with Andrey Vasilevsky looked like it could be the deciding factor in the Stanley Cup Finals. That is, until Kemper made 37 saves in Game 4 and scored more expected saves (1.14) than Vasilevsky (1.08). Now the Avalanche are back home, where their speed and forechecking helped Kemper score a goal in Game 2. It could be a very good night for the goalkeeper and his teammates.
Victoria Matyash, NHL analyst: Ground Kadri. Having played just one game since June 4, the Colorado center may have the freshest legs, as well as the desire to contribute after missing out on a chance for much of a month. So I especially like his chances of being the deciding factor, again after he scored the OT winning goal in Game 4 (not that it affected how the points game played out, but hopefully this time with the correct number of Avalanche skaters on the ice). . Plus, there’s Kadri’s comeback from surgery on his crushed toe, which initially looked like she wouldn’t release him for the rest of the playoffs. Even with the magic of modern medicine, he must be in great pain. Sports fans of all stripes adore such narratives, and for good reason.
Arda Okal, NHL host: I think it will be Kadri, but since Victoria chose him, I will take Valery Nichushkin. He had an incredible playoff and I definitely saw him have a defining moment in Game 5. Overall I think Cale Makar gets Conn Smythe, but there are a lot of great figures like Nichushkin who brought this team one game from their first title since 2001.
If the Lightning are going to be back in this series, who is the only player who needs to step up on Friday?
Shilton: Stephen Stamkos. And I mean not only on the ice, although Stamkos could improve there as well. Stamkos scored just two points in the Cup Final, both in a 6-2 thrashing of the Lightning Aws in Game 3. He needs more breaking point.
Beyond that, Tampa Bay will need Stamkos’ lead to quickly turn the page in Game 4. The Lightning clearly – and perhaps understandably – had strong feelings for overtime winner Nazem Kadri. There just isn’t time to get past those emotions if Tampa Bay is determined to extend the streak to Game 6. We respect the voice of Stamkos. He himself has been through a lot, both personally and professionally. If anyone can share wisdom on perseverance, it’s him. This is not to say that the Lightnings as a whole are not mentally strong enough to handle an argument about too many people. It just feels like a moment where, when it would be easy to hang heads, Lightning will look to his captain for perspective.
Vyshinsky: Andrei Vasilevsky. He has earned the status of one of the best postseason goaltenders in NHL history. He played brilliantly in Games 3 and 4 in Tampa, followed by that seven-goal horror show in Game 2 in Denver. But he hasn’t stolen a single game in this series, and if the Lightning are going to be back in Tampa by Game 6, they’re going to need the Big Cat’s best playoff game. Lightning knows what’s going to happen in Denver. The Avalanche are back in front of their fans, with one last line-up change, and they can taste the celebratory champagne. They recover as Lightning’s list of injuries grows. If there ever was a time when Vasilevsky could make a difference, it is now.
Matthias: Victor Hedman. Not only on defense, working on slowing down Avs, but also helping the Lightning cause on offense. In this series, Tampa scored one powerplay goal, thanks to Corey Perry. One. It won’t help. The Lightning’s best division should be better, starting with Hedman, who is second only to Nikita Kucherov in points after a season with an additional skater. I suspect officials won’t bury their whistles as deep on Friday as they did in Game 4. Hedman and his team should take advantage when it comes to their decision.
Okal: Give me the collection of Ross Colton, Ondrej Palat, Anthony Cirelli, Pierre-Edouard Belmare, Mikhail Sergachev… There are many options here. I think a lot of people will point to Vasilevsky, Nikita Kucherov and Stamkos, but if the Lightning win Game 5, I think their depth will be a big factor. They will need all four lanes to stop Avalanche and continue this streak.
Will the trophy be awarded after the fifth game or will we go back to Tampa?
Shilton: The Lightning started Game 4 “hot” and then faded heavily. The Colorado went from being flat-footed to being high-flying. What’s left in the Tampa Bay tank? Vasilevsky has held the Lightning really well so far, while Kemper had his best postseason game in Game 4. It looks like the stars have aligned for Colorado to win the Cup on home ice in Game 5.
I think they will succeed: 4-3 in OT, Avalanche instead of Lightning.
Vyshinsky: To answer Kristen’s question, I don’t think the Lightning have anything left, or at least not enough to hang with the Avalanche in Denver at the moment. Game 5’s overtime looked suspiciously similar to games 1 and 2, with Colorado leading the game in terms of shot attempts and time in the zone while the Lightning were desperately hoping for a hit back. Avalanche can now set their matchups with the latest change, which means they can get Nathan McKinnon away from Anthony Cirelli – if he plays control center as he’s one of Lightning’s few walking wounded – and back away from Stamkos’ lane. , which the Avalanche consigned to oblivion in the first two games.
I think it ends in game 5, and convincingly: 4-1 Avalanche to win the Stanley Cup.
Matthias: It’s hard to compete with Stamkos & Co after all the club has accomplished in the past two years, but the Lightning looked like the underdog in every way except in the first period of Game 4, a contest they really needed to win. And while everyone is still saying the right things, the prospect of winning three games in a row against such a quality Avalanche team must feel intimidating. This is the most shabby and tired look that Lightning has seen in a while.
While I want game 6 — because it’s fun! — Friday is likely to end the 2021-22 playoff season with a 5-2 Avalanche.
Okal: Congratulations to the Colorado Avalanche, your 2022 Stanley Cup champions.
Who is Conn Smythe choosing now?
Shilton: Makar. I just don’t know, game by game, who can match the fact that Makar brought Colorado to the playoffs. McKinnon was good, absolutely. But not at the same level as Makar. The defenseman averages more than 27 minutes on the ice per game in any situation, but appears tireless. When Avalanche at his best creates chances in a rush, it is Makar who largely starts from the far end. He was the Avalanche’s most consistent and reliable player, facing some of the toughest matches (such as Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl) to come in those playoffs. What is more valuable than this?
Vyshinsky: Makar. There are three options here. Nazem Kadri now has two of the most inspiring performances in the Stanley Cup playoffs: a hat-trick in St. Louis after he suffered backlash after colliding with Jordan Binnington; and with his game 4 overtime winner against Tampa Bay in his first game since thumb surgery. But if the Avalanche forward gets the nod, it’s undoubtedly McKinnon, who has the best record and the distinction of being Colorado’s super-intense leader off the ice. But none of them have the stats of Makar, who is also effective defensively (against Connor McDavid’s line, for example) and sets all-time postseason scoring records for defensemen. Norris winner also gets Conn.
Matthias: The boring and correct answer is the same as the other two, Makar. Together with team mate Devon Toews, the young defender effectively choked out some of the best in the game. In addition, there is his own tally of seven goals and 20 assists in 18 competitions. A lot needs to happen in the next few days for another top contender to emerge.
Okal: I already said above, but this is Makar – a superstar. He has been compared to Bobby Orr; this should tell you everything you need to know.