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Stanley Cup Finals Preview: the Colorado Avalanche take on the Tampa Bay Lightning


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By Jordan Laroche

The Stanley Cup Final is finally upon us, the Tampa Bay Lightning and the Colorado Avalanche have battled all season for a chance to compete for the Stanley Cup. We have two of the NHL’s elite clubs going at it and will spoil fans with some great play on the ice. But how did these teams get here? And is there a favorite as we head into the series?

The Road Less Traveled, How They Got Here

Tampa Bay

For the Tampa Bay Lightning the regular season was a wash, they knew that if they just made the playoffs they had a chance to have a deep run with a group who knows what it takes to win. This was proven by the moves the Lightning made at the trade deadline, bringing in Nick Paul, Brandon Hagel sacrificing their future to continue their Stanley Cup winning streak.
The Lightning faced off against the Toronto Maple Leafs in the first round, the Leafs had Tampa Bay on the brink of elimination, but back-to-back wins in game 6 and 7 advanced them to the second round. But the win came at a cost as Brayden Point went down with a lower-body injury and has yet to return in these playoffs.

The Lightning would then sweep the Florida Panthers in the Battle of Florida before facing the New York Rangers in the conference final.

Colorado Avalanche

The Colorado Avalanche have been considered a cup favorite by many for several years now, but in their first Stanley Cup Final since 2001 they still have a lot to prove. After leading the NHL for most of the season, the Avalanche were also busy at the trade deadline bringing in Josh Manson, Nico Strum, Artturi Lehkonen and Andrew Cogliano adding defensive and forward depth to an already remarkable roster.

The Avalanche didn’t run into too much trouble on route to the Cup Final opening with a sweep against a Juuse Saros-less Nashville Predators.

The St. Louis Blues were the toughest opponent for the Avs so far taking them to six games, they were able to shut down the Avs top weapons at key times through the series.

The Avs would then sweep the Edmonton Oilers in the conference final as Nathan MacKinnon out dueled Connor McDavid.

Betting the Stanley Cup Final

– To win the series:

o Avalanche: -189
o Lightning: +155

– Conn Smythe Trophy Winner:

o Cale Makar: +180
o Nathan MacKinnon: +215
o Andrei Vasilevskiy: +400

– Number of games in series:

o 4 games: +540
o 5 games: +260
o 6 games: +210
o 7 games: +210

Analysis: The Avalanche being the favorite definitely jumps off the page as I personally thought the back-to-back Stanley Cup winners would be the favorite. Nevertheless, there is good value in taking the Lightning at +155, ($100 bet gets $155 + $100) it’s a high risk-high reward bet.

Picking a Conn Smythe winner should go hand-in-hand with who you think will win the series. The Avalanche players will receive lower odds as they are the favorite. MacKinnon and Makar are obvious picks for the Avalanche, but Mikko Raantanen (+1400) or Darcy Kuemper (+3900) are also good picks. If the Lightning win the series, Andrei Vasilevskiy will be the front runner for the trophy, but Victor Hedman (+2100) and Nikita Kucherov (+400) can also provide some upside.

Storylines to Watch

Brayden Point

Point was hurt in game seven of the first round against the Leafs after being tangled up against the boards. He has yet to play in a game but was a full participant at Monday’s practice. Assistant Coach Jeff Halpern told the Tampa Bay Times “I don’t know if Monday was any indication… It was a light skate.” Point had 2G 2A 4P in seven games vs the Leafs and is a key piece for the Lightning skating with Steven Stamkos and Kucherov.

Line Matchups

The Anthony Cirelli-Brandon Hagel-Alex Killorn line has been very impactful throughout the playoffs keeping 2 of the top three NHL goal scorers in check. They kept Chris Kreider to just 2 goals and Auston Matthews to 4 goals. They will have to be at their best as they will be up against the Nathan MacKinnon-Grabirel Landeskog-Valeri Nichushkin line who as a group have 44 points through 14 games.

Colorado vs Vasilevskiy

This is going to be a tall task for both the Avs and Vasilevskiy. The Avs have yet to face an elite goaltender in the playoffs, and it has shown as they lead the playoffs in goals per game with 4.6. The Colorado Avalanche are also averaging 40 shots per game in the playoffs. Not to say that the Avs have a world-class offense, but Vasilevskiy has been on another planet this year.
A 2.27 GAA and a .928 SV% are only where it starts with Vasilevskiy. His ability to steal games is second to none and he has done so in many series clinching games. A 0.77 GAA .974 SV% and six shutouts in series clinching games since 2020, Vasilevskiy has become one of, if not the most clutch player in the NHL.


As nice as it would be to see someone else win the Stanley Cup, the Tampa Bay Lightning have the experience and the team to do it all again.

Tampa Bay 4-2.


Will the Colorado Avalanche Francouz or Kuemper start the Stanley Cup Finals opener?


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By Neil Becker

The Colorado Avalanche have a tough decision to make.

Days away from playing the back-to-back Stanley Cup champions Tampa Bay Lightning in the Stanley Cup Finals, it’s not a guarantee that number one goalie Darcy Kuemper will get the start.

Kuemper, who on July 28, 2021 was traded from the Arizona Coyotes to the Avalanche, is coming off a solid regular season which saw him go 37-12-4 with 4 shutouts and a 2.54 GAA.

During this current playoff run Kuemper suffered some bad luck starting in Colorado’s best of seven first round series which the Avs went on to sweep against the Nashville Predators.

In Game 3 of that series, Kuemper suffered during second period action a stick in the eye which sidelined him for the rest of that game along with Game 4.

Avs backup goalie Pavel Francouz came in to relieve and made a strong statement with his solid play.

 Francouz came off the bench cold and saved 18 out of 20 shots in a 7-3 Avalanche win. Two days later, with Colorado going for the four- game sweep, this 32- year-old who in March signed a two-year extension, proved once again to be clutch as he saved 28 of 31 shots in leading Colorado to a 5-3 series sweeping win.

Showing to be a quick healer, Kuemper came back and played well in the Western Conference semi-finals against the St. Louis Blues. In the Game 6 clincher, he made 18 saves in what was a 3-2 Colorado series win which punched their ticket to the Western Conference finals.

Once again Kuemper had trouble staying healthy as he had suffered an upper body injury in the second period of the Western Conference opener against the Edmonton Oilers.  

When Kuemper was replaced by Francouz, Colorado was holding a 6-3 lead. Once again Francouz was clutch as he stopped 18 of 21 shots in an 8-6 Avs win.

Embracing the spotlight, Francouz continued to shine as his finest moment came two days later when he made 24 saves during a 4-0 shutout win which left the Avs only two wins shy of going to the Stanley Cup finals.

This Czechoslovakian goalie remained undefeated this spring as he backstopped Colorado to a 4-2 Game 3 win followed by a 30 save performance in a 6-5 series sweeping win against the Oilers.

 Entering the Stanley Cup Finals, Francouz is a perfect 6-0-0 with a 2.86 GAA while Kuemper has also been impressive with a 6-2-0 record and a 2.44 GAA.

Kuemper was the back up for Game 4 of the Western Conference finals, and has declared himself to be healthy.  

In retrospect the Avalanche coaching staff have quite the luxury of either going back to Kuemper who is 6-2-0 in nine games with a 2.44 GAA or staying with Francouz who is a perfect 6-0-0 with a 2.86 GAA.


Will UFA Johnny Gaudreau re-sign with the Calgary Flames?


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 By Neil Becker

Heading towards free agency, the million-dollar question in Calgary is whether Unrestricted Free Agent star forward Johnny Gaudreau will return to the Flames.

This left-winger is affectionately known around the league as “Johnny Hockey,” is coming off a career season that saw the 28- year-old score 40 goals while eclipsing the 100- point mark for the first time with 115. However, perhaps his most impressive stat was finishing first this season in plus/minus with a remarkable +64 mark.

Gaudreau, who was selected by the Flames 104th overall in the 2011 NHL Entry Draft, has over his eight full seasons become a fan favorite in Calgary. In his career, this offensive gifted player has posted some impressive numbers which include 210 career goals and 609 career points in 602 games.

Obviously, this Salem New Jersey native has played a major role in the Flames strong season which saw them finish first in the Pacific Division with 111 points and emerge as Stanley Cup contenders.

Meanwhile, all Flames fans can do right now is wait with their fingers crossed as team General Manager Brad Treliving does everything in the organization’s power to sign him before July 13th when he would hit the open market as an unrestricted free agent.

The Flames playoff drive saw Gaudreau score the Game 7 overtime series-winning goal in round one against the Dallas Stars before falling short 4 games to 1 in the Western Conference semi-finals against the Edmonton Oilers. In 12 playoff goals this spring “Johnny Hockey” produced 3 goals along with 14 points.

No matter where Gaudreau ends up next fall, he will be making a lot more than the $6.75 million dollars he made over the previous six campaigns.

On the strength of his career season which will see him get strong consideration for the Hart Trophy, Gaudreau could make up to $10.5 million on his new contract.

Prior to hitting the open market, Calgary can in fact offer him an eight-year contract. According to CapFriendly.com Treliving has $26.9 million in cap space. Along with desperately trying to sign Gaudreau, they also have to worry about forwards Matthew Tkachuk and Andrew Mangiapane who are coming off career seasons and are restricted free agents. They also have to spend on the back end where they have only four defencemen locked up for next year.

During the end of the playoffs press conference, Gaudreau was saying how Calgary has a special place in his heart. He also strongly praises Flames fans and everyone living in the city.

“I do have a big decision and we’ll see what happens in the next few weeks, but I love it here,” Gaudreau said. “I love the fans. I love the city. But I never really had that moment where I was like, ‘This is it for me.”
Obviously, the Flames will do everything they can to sign ‘Johnny Hockey’ to a long-term contract. Only time will tell what his decision will be. Until then, he will have the entire city of Calgary waiting anxiously and hoping he will continue to wear Flames colors. 


The New York Rangers Kid Line coming of age


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By Neil Becker
These playoffs have been a real coming out party for the New York Rangers ‘Kid Line.’
Playing a major role in the Rangers post-season success has been the team’s third line consisting of three former first round draft choices in 22 year-old Filip Chytil, 20 year-old Alexis Lafreniere and 21 year-old Kaapo Kakko.
This line, which was put together late in the regular season has given Rangers fans plenty to get excited about in regards to not only the present playoff run, but also for years to come.
Showing absolutely no intimidation or nervousness in playing the back-to-back Stanley Cup champions Tampa Bay Lightning in the best of seven Eastern Conference Finals, this line continues to produce offence while getting rave reviews from Rangers coach Gerrard Gallant. 
On Wednesday, June 1st. in front of a packed Madison Square Garden, this line simply dominated as they combined for five points in helping the Rangers win the Eastern Conference finals series opener by a  6-2 score against the Lightning.
The Rangers, who needed seven full games to defeat the Pittsburgh Penguins in the opening playoff round followed in round two by another seven games in beating the Carolina Hurricanes, had never held a series lead until now.
Chytil, who centers the Kid Line, scored two goals including the eventual game winner while Lafreniere registered two assists and Kakko who had several great chances drew an assist.
During the season Chytil had an ordinary campaign which saw him produce 8 goals and 22 points in 67 games. So far in the playoffs, this 2017 21st overall Rangers selection has scored 7 goals and two assist for 9 points thus far in 16 playoff games.
Lafreniere, who was selected by the Rangers 1st overall in the 2020 NHL Entry Draft is coming off a breakthrough sophomore campaign which saw him score 19 goals and 31 points along with 37 penalty minutes in 79 games played. 
In post-season this left winger has shown the willingness to play physical and block shots while scoring 2 goals and 9 points in 16 games. This projected superstar like his line-mates just keep on getting better and better each game.
Kakko, who the Rangers drafted 2nd overall in the 2019 draft, battled injuries  as he played only 43 games where he scored 7 goals and 18 points along with an impressive +/- of a +9.
So far this spring Kakko has scored 2 goals and 5 assist in 16 games while like his line-mates playing some strong defence.
Continuing to spark the Rangers, the Kid Line were also dominant in Game 2 of the Eastern Conference Finals. Kakko got Madison Square Garden loud when in the first period he scored his second goal of the playoffs which put New York ahead to stay at 2-1 of what ended up to be a 3-2 Rangers win.
Not only can this line provide offence but they also bring size and physicality. Lafreniere stands at 6 foot 2 inches and weighs 193 pounds while Kakko is 6 foot 3 inches and 199 pounds followed by Chytil who stands at 6 foot 3 inches and 210 pounds.
Obviously this line has picked the right time of year to play its best hockey. This is also good news for the Rangers chances because it makes them more of a well rounded team and takes pressure off the big guns such as Chris Kreider, Artemi Panarin, Mika Zibanejad and defenceman Adam Fox. 
All those players have been producing as the Rangers who have had exceptional goaltending from Igor Shesterkin are only two wins away from a berth in the 2022 Stanley Cup Finals.
Looking back to the Kids Line five point output in the Eastern Conference Finals series opener, don’t forget they produced offence against one of the best goaltenders in 2019 Vezina Trophy winner and two time Stanley Cup winner Andrei Vasilevskiy.
This is a special time for Rangers fans who are embracing these youngsters and with elite goaltending and a balanced lineup have a great chance to accomplish something they haven’t done since 1994 which is win the Stanley Cup. 


The Colorado Avalanche are headed to Western Conference Finals


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By Neil Becker
This Colorado Avalanche  are on a mission.
Playing a resilient St. Louis Blues team in the best of seven Western Conference semi-finals, Colorado needed six games before accomplishing something  they haven’t done since 2002 which is advancing to the third round.
Colorado, who last year lost in the second round in six games  to the Vegas Golden Knights, and the year before in seven to the Dallas Stars were determined this spring to finally clear that hurdle and challenge for the Stanley Cup.
Coming off a solid regular season which saw them finish second overall and first in the Central Division with 119 points, this power house team were definitely among the favorites and for good reason to prevent the back-to-back champions Tampa Bay Lightning from winning a third straight cup.
All through the line-up Colorado has some dangerous scorers in the likes of forwards Nathan MacKinnon, Mikko Rantanen, Gabriel Landeskog, Nazem Kadri and defenceman Cale Makar to name a few. They also have some underrated shut down defenceman and solid goaltending in Darcy Kuemper.
The playoff journey this spring started off well for the Avalanche who completed a four game first round sweep against the Nashville Predators. For a fourth straight year the Avalanche made it to the second round.
Ironically enough the Avalanche ended up playing the Blues who they swept last spring in the first round.
In the series opener Colorado badly outshot the Blues by a 54-25 margin but needed overtime to pull out a 3-2 win. The Avalanche who were facing a red hot Blues goalie in Jordan Binnington, scored the overtime winner on a shot from defenceman Josh Manson at the 8:02 mark. 
In Game 2,  Binnington was once again clutch as he made 30 saves in helping the Blues get that much desired split with a 4-1 win at Ball Arena to even up the series heading home.
St. Louis jumped out to a 2-0 second period lead on goals from Kyrou and a power play tally from David Perron. Colorado scored an early third period power play goal from Landeskog before the Blues responded with consecutive goals from Perron with his second followed at the 18:10 mark by an empty netter from Brandon Saad to clinch the win. 
When the series shifted to Enterprise Center for Game 3, Avalanche forward Nazem Kadri found himself in the center of controversy when during the first period of a 5-2 Avs win, he cut in on the Blues net and collided hard with Binnington. Binnington  had to leave the game and was replaced by backup Ville Husso. 
Kadri, who had a goal and two points in the win, received all sorts of threats after the game and police became involved. During this crucial third game Colorado had a 3-2 lead after two periods. In the third, they took control as Landeskog scored a big insurance marker and with less than a minute remaining in regulation Artturi Lehkonen scored the fifth goal into an empty net.
Showcasing his elite offensive talents in Game 4 was Kadri who in front of the Enterprise Center fans scored three goals and four points in leading the Avs to a 6-3 win and a commanding 3-1 series lead.
Once again Husso was  in the Blues net. Husso, who two nights earlier made 19 saves followed that up with a 31 save performance in a 6-3 Avalanche win. 
Colorado found themselves trailing 1-0 early in the second before they erupted for four goals in less than a five minute span from defenceman Erik Johnson. Kadri with two and defenceman Devon Toews which was the eventual turning point. Now they were in full control with a 3-1 series lead heading back home.
Looking to quickly wrap up the series Colorado couldn’t have asked for a better Game 5 start. In a game they would eventually lose 5-4 in overtime, the Avalanche got off to a strong start as  they scored two first period goals from Nathan MacKinnon followed by an early third period tally from Landeskog for a 3-0 lead. 
Fighting to keep their season alive St. Louis started a big comeback as Vladimir Tarasenko scored scored their first goal which was followed in the third by goals from Robert Thomas and Jordan Kyrou which with less than five minutes remaining made it a 3-3 game.  
MacKinnon would complete the hattrick before Thomas with 56 seconds left in regulation scored his second of the period to force overtime where at the 3:38 mark, Blues Tyler Bozak scored in what was a season saving 5-4 win.
Back in St. Louis Game 6 was tied at 2-2 when with seconds remaining in regulation the Blues suffered tremendous heartbreak. With only six seconds left Avalanche forward Darren Helm scored his first playoff goal of the spring which turned out to be the series winner.
Hockey fans from coast-to-coast will be treated to an unbelievable Western Conference finals between the Avalanche and Edmonton Oilers.
Game 1 gets under way at Ball Arena with opening face-off scheduled for 8 p.m.