I give Leon Draisaitl a lot of crap even though he's one of my favorite players. But seeing him hobble around on one leg, then hunch over on the bench, only to return and dish out assists, shows his character and desire to win. I knew the Avalanche would win, but the sweep was surprising. However, that's not the first time the Edmonton Oilers surprised me by being swept, and I'm sure it won't be the last.
Momentum exists. There are several games throughout history where it's quite evident. But it doesn't always exist in series. There were several NHL and NBA games these playoffs where one team blew out another, and then that team came back and returned the favor. Commentators boasted momentum is dead if it ever existed. Those series obviously didn't have momentum, but the Rangers vs. Lightning did. It's pretty apparent when the Rangers were up 2-0 in the series and Game 3, they were on their way to a series win and potentially a sweep. But the Lightning scored a minute after the Rangers' second goal, a minute into the third period, and with a minute left in the game to complete the comeback. They never lost again. That's momentum.
At the start of the playoffs, I believed it would end with either the Avalanche or Toronto Maple Leafs hoisting the cup. As usual, the Maple Leafs lost in the first round, but the Avalanche are still here. And this is the easiest path they'll ever get. That Avalanche vs. Maple Leafs finals would have been glorious.
While the Minnesota Wild and St. Louis Blues had a lot of points, neither posed a threat. The only threat in the division, the Dallas Stars, didn't play to their potential and ended up on the other side of the bracket. The Avalanche are really lucky they just missed playing the Stars in the first round. The Stars lost to the Calgary Flames, who were also a threat, but they lost to the Oilers. The Oilers showed they aren't there yet. The only other team that could beat the Avalanche, the Vegas Golden Knights, did not make the playoffs.
The Avalanche also have the +/- playoff stat on their side. The Avalanche occupy the second through seventh spots and have two others in the top fifteen. The Lightning only have one in the top fifteen, which is at number eight, and only two others are in the top thirty. While it's not Montreal Canadiens level bad from last season, it's not great. By the way, the Canadiens went from the worst team to ever make the finals to the worst team in the NHL. Last year's playoffs were such a sham, and so were they.
C1 Colorado Avalanche vs. A3 Tampa Bay Lightning
Season Series: 2-0 Avalanche
Playoff Series History: None
What We Learned: The Avalanche disposed of the Oilers in almost record fashion. The Lightning rekindled their championship swagger after another rough start.
Stars to Watch: Cale Makar, Nathan MacKinnon, Gabriel Landeskog, and Mikko Rantanen lead the Avalanche in playoff scoring. It's almost like the top four never change, and that's because it doesn't. But the Avalanche get key contributions from Devon Toews, Artturi Lehkonen, and Valeri Nichushkin. Nazem Kadri is still injured, but it wouldn't surprise me if he returned for Game 2. Nikita Kucherov, Ondrej Palat, Steven Stamkos, and Victor Hedman lead the Lightning in playoff scoring. The big boys weren't really delivering, but they did against the Rangers. But that's not advantageous. The role players aren't contributing as much anymore. I give Steven Stamkos a lot of crap for several reasons, but I was impressed with how he delivered in Game 6. Brayden Point is still injured but will assuredly return, probably Game 2 too. They need him badly in this series.
Goalie Problem: I've always believed Pavel Francouz was the best Avalanche goalie the last few years. He just needed to showcase it. He's had stretches where he wasn't great but what goalie doesn't? Sadly, I think they'll go with a healthy Darcy Kuemper. It wouldn't surprise me if they pulled Kuemper at some point. Andrei Vasilevskiy showed why he's the man. The Avalanche will need to knock out the Lightning by Game 6. Otherwise, it's not happening. They better be leading going into Game 6 too.
X-Factor: The only things the Lightning do better than the Avalanche are kill penalties and block shots. Two things you don't want to be doing. The Avalanche are better in every other phase of the game. The one thing the Lightning do have more of is finals experience.
Fun Fact: The Lightning are the first team to appear in three straight Stanley Cup finals since the Oilers in 1983-85. Pat Maroon is making his fourth straight finals appearance, and Corey Perry is making his third straight, all with different teams.
Prediction: The Lightning are obviously a very talented team, and while they made it back here, they looked awful in almost half their playoff games. You can't play like that against the Avalanche because you might lose when you play well. The Lightning were a team of destiny a few seasons ago, and it all began with a Virginia Cavaliers hat. The Avalanche are a team of destiny this season, and it started with a MacKinnon quote. The Avalanche swept two teams, have only played badly once, and have pretty much everything in their favor. That doesn't mean the Lightning don't have a chance. Vasilevskiy could shut the Avalanche down, MacKinnon could get frustrated, and Kucherov and Stamkos could get red hot. But it seems unlikely anything will derail the Avalanche. Avalanche in 5 or 6.