The Stanley Cup Final will last at least six games this year after the Tampa Bay Lightning won Game 5 3-2, knocking 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 each team? How confident are they in the goalkeeper? And who will emerge victorious?
After: Stanley Cup Final Schedule
Path to victory for the Avs
Kristen Shilton: Colorado clearly knows how to beat Tampa Bay: play fast, create edge opportunities and be thorough in the details of the breakout. Anything less, and the Lightning are finding ways to push back and capitalize. The Avalanche dominated early in this series through the neutral zone. This has not been the case lately. And the Colorado didn’t generate the same quick starts as before. On the contrary, the Avalanche have looked at their best in third period and overtime in games since that 7-0 shot they delivered in Game 2.
If Colorado intends to go home with the Stanley Cup after Game 6, they must come back on offense. There’s no point in being afraid of making mistakes at this point, which the Avalanche seemed to worry about for most of Game 5.
Closing the Lightning isn’t easy; they wouldn’t be alive in the playoffs if that was the case. Tampa Bay has been down in three of its four series. Colorado needs to put a lot more desperation into their game to stop a wired Lightning group to excel in the clutch. The Avalanche have the talent and the tools to put an end to Tampa Bay. What they need to channel into Game 6 is the killer instinct that was at the forefront of their performances early in the series. Colorado has been excellent on the road in these playoffs, going 7-1 in four series.
“We’ve been good because we keep playing our game regardless of venue,” Avs coach Jared Bednar said after Game 5. “Guys dug on the road. We saw him all through the regular season. We saw him really progress in the playoffs. The guys arrive hungry and ready to play and play with our identity. So it’s a 60 minute effort here. I thought the game in Tampa that we won [4-3 in OT in Game 4]we got stronger as the game went on.”
Kevin Weekes talks about the Avalanche’s failure to eliminate the Lightning at home in Game 5.
Road to victory for Lightning
Greg Wyshynski: The Lightning believed in his recipe for defeating the Avalanche all series. It’s just that in the first two games their ingredients were marred by terrible starts – multi-goal deficits in the first 10 minutes that were partially caused by untimely penalties. But in the last three games they started to cook, leading after the first period in all three games.
“You can see what can happen. Winning 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 made to play to games that are tight like that.”
The Lightning are comfortable in tight games. They rely on goalkeeper Andrei Vasilevskiy, like the strong 35-save performance they received in Game 5, and excellent team defense that kept Nathan MacKinnon, Gabriel Landeskog, Mikko Rantanen and Nazem Kadri scoreless in game 5.
But they can only win these tight games if they get enough points. Sometimes it comes from unlikely sources like defender Jan Rutta. Often that comes from clutch players like Ondrej Palat, whose 11 goals this postseason have him in Conn Smythe’s conversation.
“I don’t even know what else to say to describe the guys,” Lightning coach Jon Cooper said. “You are in the series, the Cup is in the building. You are in a great environment for the home team. And how do you show the spirit of the game? Everything we have just done. You take the lead , you defend, you eliminate penalties , score on the power play And then when you need the big goal at the end, you get it.
Verification of guardian trust
Shilton: I would rate Darcy Kuemper at 7.5/10 on the confidence scale.
Bednar didn’t exactly give Kuemper a ringing endorsement when he called his Game 5 performance ‘OK’, but Kuemper then gave up an easily stoppable playoff goal to Rutta, so maybe Bednar wasn’t far behind. .
Kuemper has been inconsistent. It wasn’t much of a problem because Colorado was exceptional in front of him, so Kuemper’s relative mediocrity sometimes didn’t require overanalysis. Tampa Bay is no ordinary opponent and Vasilevskiy is no regular goaltender. There is more spotlight on Kuemper than ever and Vasilevskiy got the better of him.
That being said, Kuemper was sensational (minus one Victor Hedman backhand goal allowed) in Colorado’s Game 4 win. That’s where the Avalanche need him in Game 6. It’s almost certain that Kuemper will allow a bad goal. It would be manageable. I think Kuemper can outplay the Lightning, if not Vasilevskiy directly. The most important thing is that he doesn’t let Bednar – or anything else – mentally confuse him before another critical game.
Jan Rutta scores his first playoff goal, sneaking the puck through Darcy Kuemper to put the Bolts up 1-0.
Wyshinsky: My confidence in Vasilevskiy is about 9 out of 10.
I don’t think he has quite the aura he had in previous races. He still made a few wobbly saves that gave the Avalanche a second chance. He surpasses Kuemper, but he had registered just 0.28 goals above expectations in Game 5.
The Lightning’s confidence in Vasilevskiy is basically 11 out of 10.
“He’s played the most hockey, more than anyone else in the last three years. The guy just has it,” winger Pat Maroon said. “He finds a way every night. It’s very impressive. The way he does it in the regular season, playing over 50 games, three playoffs. He’s playing every 60 minutes. So he’s the guy.”
What we’re watching in Game 6
Shilton: What happened when Nathan MacKinnon arrived?
He’s dazzling to watch with the puck. He can pass the stick through a phone booth. But why did his goal evaporate in the Cup Final? Yes, MacKinnon gets the toughest line matches. And he technically had a goal when Mikko Rantanen’s pass came off his skate in Game 4. MacKinnon had flashes of greatness in this series that don’t produce goals. But MacKinnon really needs to shoot pucks. This has never been more imperative than now, at the dawn of a crucially important clincher.
Players always say the important thing is to generate chances and MacKinnon clearly does that. But he has little lead left to help the Avalanche by appearing on the score sheet with tangible results. If MacKinnon is the changed man everyone claims to be and plays loose, now is the time to show it with well-timed goals rather than skating.
Wyshinsky: Are we about to witness the pivot of special teams in the Stanley Cup Final?
The X factor in Game 5 was that the Lightning finally converted to the power play for only the second time in 18 occasions. Nikita Kucherov’s goal from a 4-3 advantage was that extra tally they lacked in the overtime losses in Games 1 and 4.
“The power play suffered a bit,” Stamkos said. “Obviously a great moment in the game. Hopefully we can gain confidence as well.”
Meanwhile, the penalty kill had its best performance. It was the first time in five games the Avalanche hadn’t scored on the power play, having gone 6 for 13 on the power play previously. But the key number was two, as in the number of power plays the Lightning handed Colorado. It was the second game in a row where they held the Avalanche to two power plays. It is enormous.
Final Score Predictions
Shilton: I still think Colorado is the better team. And the Avalanche haven’t lost consecutive playoff games. Tampa Bay is impressively resilient. The Lightning really leave it all on the ice every night and Game 5 showed they were nothing but brave. If Colorado can play the full 60 minutes like they did the last 20 of this game, and if Kuemper can be at his best, the Avalanche should find a way. 4-2 Colorado.
Wyshinsky: My pre-series prediction was Avalanche in six years, and I’ll stick to that. Kuemper needs to be better and MacKinnon, Landeskog and Rantanen need to assert their dominance a lot more. I think they will. I love that they win another close game in Tampa and finally lift the Cup again. 3-2 Colorado.