The Stanley Cup Finals will last at least six games this year after the Tampa Bay Lightning won Game 5 3-2 and kept the Colorado Avalanche out of the cup for at least two more days.
Game 6 is Sunday in Tampa (8 ET, ABC and ESPN+). With Colorado leading the series 3-2, what are the keys to victory for both sides? How confident are you in goalkeeping? And who will emerge victorious?
More: Schedule for the Stanley Cup Finals
Road to victory for the Avs
Kristen Shilton: Colorado clearly knows how to beat Tampa Bay: Play fast, create rush opportunities, and be meticulous about the breakout. Anything else, and the Lightning find ways to push back and capitalize. The Avalanche dominated through the neutral zone early in the series. That hasn’t been the case lately. And Colorado hasn’t hit the same quick starts it used to. If anything, the Avalanche have looked their best in the third half and overtime in games since the 7-0 smash they delivered in Game 2.
If Colorado wants to fly home with the Stanley Cup after Game 6, it needs to attack again. There’s no point in being afraid of making mistakes at this point, which the Avalanche seemed concerned about for most of Game 5.
Turning off the flash is not easy; They wouldn’t be alive in the playoffs if they were. Tampa Bay has been down in three of its four series. Colorado will need to show a lot more desperation in their game to take out a Lightning group hardwired to shine in the clutch. The Avalanche have the talent and tools needed to take down Tampa Bay. What they need to channel in Game 6 is the killer instinct that was paramount in their early series performances. Colorado has been excellent on the road in these playoffs, going 7-1 through four series.
“We were good because we just keep playing our game regardless of the venue,” said Avs coach Jared Bednar after game 5. “The boys dug into the street. We saw it in the regular season. We’ve seen it really get into the playoffs. The guys come in hungry and they’re ready to play and show our identity. So it’s a 60-minute effort here. I thought the Tampa game we have won [4-3 in OT in Game 4]we got stronger as the game went on.”
Kevin Weekes talks about the Avalanche failing to close the Lightning on home ice in Game 5.
Path to victory for Lightning
Greg Wyshynski: The Lightning believed in their recipe to defeat the Avalanche All series. However, their ingredients were spoiled in their first two games by poor starts – multi-goal deficits in the first 10 minutes, partly due to early penalties. But in the last three games they started to boil and led in all three competitions after the first third.
“You can see what can happen. Won game 3, game 4 goes to overtime, it was a close game. That’s how we want to keep it, that’s how we want to play,” said captain Steven Stamkos. “We know the dynamic skills they have. If we can stay disciplined, stay out of the penalty area, try to eliminate their skills as much as possible. That’s how this team won and we’re designed to play games that are so tight.”
The Lightning are comfortable in tight games. They rely on goalkeeper Andrei Vasilevskiy, like the solid performance of 35 saves in Game 5, and a great team defense that kept Nathan MacKinnon, Gabriel Landeskog, Mikko Rantanen and Nazem Kadri goalless in Game 5.
But they can only win these tight games if they score enough goals. Sometimes that comes from unlikely sources like defender Jan Rutta. Often it comes from clutch players like Ondrej Palat, whose 11 goals this postseason has him in conversation with Conn Smythe.
“I don’t know what else to say to describe the guys,” said Lightning coach Jon Cooper. “You’re in the series below, Cup is in the building. You’re in a great environment for the home team. And how do you show playfulness? Everything we just did. You lead, you defend, you kill penalties, score on the power play. And if you end up needing the big gate, you get it.”
Confidence test for goalkeepers
Shilton: I would rate Darcy Kuemper a 7.5/10 on the trust scale.
Bednar didn’t exactly give Kuemper a ringing endorsement when he called his Game 5 performance “OK,” but then Kuemper conceded an easy-to-stoppable playoff goal to Rutta, so maybe Bednar wasn’t far behind.
Kuemper was inconsistent. That wasn’t a big problem because Colorado was exceptional before him, so Kuemper’s comparative mediocrity didn’t sometimes require overanalysis. Tampa Bay is no ordinary opponent and Vasilevskiy is no regular goaltender. Kuemper is now more in the spotlight than ever and Vasilevskiy has defeated him.
That said, Kuemper was sensational (minus a Victor Hedman allowed backhand goal) in Colorado’s Game 4 win. That’s where the Avalanche need him in Game 6. It’s pretty much a given that Kuemper will concede a bad goal. That would be manageable. I think Kuemper can hold his own against Lightning, although not directly against Vasilevskiy. The most important thing is that he doesn’t let Bednar – or anything else – mentally disturb him ahead of another critical game.
Jan Rutta scores his first goal of the playoffs by sneaking Darcy Kuemper’s puck to give the Bolts a 1-0 lead.
Vyshynsky: My confidence in Vasilevskiy is about nine out of ten.
I don’t think he has quite the aura that he had in previous runs. He still makes a few shaky saves that give the Avalanche a second chance. He outplays Kuemper, but he held in Game 5 just 0.28 goals above expectations.
The Lightning’s trust in Vasilevskiy is basically 11 out of 10.
“He’s played the most hockey in the last three years, more than anyone. The guy has it all,” said winger Pat Maroon. “He finds a way every night. It’s very impressive. Just like he did in the regular season, played 50+ games, three playoff heats. He plays every 60 minutes. So he’s the guy.”
What we pay attention to in game 6
Shilton: What happened to Nathan MacKinnon’s finish?
He’s amazing to watch with the puck. He can stick the handle through a phone booth. But why did his goal in the cup final vanish? Yes, MacKinnon gets the toughest line matches. And he technically registered a goal when Mikko Rantanen’s pass went off his skate in Game 4. MacKinnon had great blitzes in that series that failed to produce goals. But MacKinnon actually has to zero pucks. That has never been more important than now, on the cusp of a crucially important clincher.
Players always say that generating opportunities is important and MacKinnon clearly does. But he has little runway left to help the Avalanche by appearing on the scorer list with tangible results. If MacKinnon is the changed man everyone thinks he is and is playing loose, this is the moment to show it with well-timed goals from his stick instead of skating.
Vyshynsky: Are we nearing the pivot point for special teams in the Stanley Cup Finals?
The X-Factor in Game 5 was Lightning finally converting the power play for the second time in 18 opportunities. Nikita Kucherov’s goal with a 4-on-3 advantage was that they missed additional overtime losses in Games 1 and 4.
“The power play struggled a bit,” Stamkos said. “Obviously a big moment in the game. Hopefully that can give us some confidence as well.”
Meanwhile, the penalty kick showed its best performance. It was the first time in five games that the Avalanche didn’t score a power play goal after previously going 6-for-13 with man advantage. But the key number was two, as in the number of power plays the Lightning handed to Colorado. It was the second game in a row that they limited the Avalanche to two power plays. That’s huge.
Bottom Line Predictions
Shilton: I still think Colorado is the better team. And the Avalanche haven’t lost a consecutive game in the playoffs. Tampa Bay is impressively resilient. The Lightning really let it all out every night and Game 5 showed they have nothing but guts. If Colorado can play the full 60 minutes like the last 20 of this game and if Kuemper can be his best self, the Avalanche should find a way. 4-2 Colorado.
Vyshynsky: My Preseries prediction was Avalanche in six and I’m sticking with it. Kuemper needs to improve and MacKinnon, Landeskog and Rantanen need to assert a lot more dominance. I think they will. I like it when they win another tightly played game in Tampa and finally win the trophy again. 3-2 Colorado.
https://www.espn.com/nhl/story/_/id/34146883/2022-stanley-cup-final-wins-game-6-lightning-avalanche 2022 Stanley Cup Final – Who wins Game 6 of Avalanche-Lightning?