Avalanche vs. Lightning: What to watch for in Game 6 of 2022 Stanley Cup Final

The Stanley Cup will be in the building again on Sunday night as the Colorado Avalanche get another chance to win their first championship in two decades.

It is not going to be easy, though, as they try to knock off the reigning back-to-back champion Tampa Bay Lightning in Game 6 of the 2022 Stanley Cup Final.

The Lightning are looking to overcome what was a 3-1 series deficit and push the series to a decisive Game 7, and will have a chance to do so on home ice where they are 8-2 this postseason, with only one of those losses coming in regulation. They have the championship experience and the goalie that can help push them forward, but they are going to have to slow down one of the league’s top offenses to get there.

Here is everything to watch for in Game 6 of the series on Sunday night.

What to watch for in Game 6 of the 2022 Stanley Cup Final

• Same lineup for Lightning. That means no Brayden Point. Again. Point made a brief appearance in the Stanley Cup Final, playing in Games 1 and 2, but he was clearly not even close to 100 percent, recording just a single assist and one shot on goal in the two games. Lightning head coach Jon Cooper said it is a significant injury for Point and based on that it seems highly unlikely that he will be available even if the series goes to a Game 7 on Tuesday night.

Point has only appeared in nine games this postseason,. He was injured in Game 7 of the Lightning’s First Round win against the Toronto Maple Leafs.

[Stanley Cup Playoffs 2022 schedule, TV info]

Andre Burakovsky could play for Avalanche. On the other side of ice, the Colorado Avalanche were hoping to get Andre Burakovsky back in the lineup after missing the past three games due to injury. He made a brief appearance on the ice at Colorado’s morning skate but did not return.

Avalanche coach Jared Bednar said “we will see” when it comes to Burakovsky’s availability.

Burakovsky had two goals and an assist in the first two games of the series, including the Game 1 winning goal in overtime.

He has three goals and eight total points in the playoffs so far. The Avalanche still have plenty of scoring depth without him (especially with Nazem Kadri back in the lineup) but having him back would add even more scoring punch to a lineup that has already carried the play for most of the series.

[The Wraparound: Avalanche get another chance to win Stanley Cup]

• The goaltending matchup. This is going to be one of the biggest X-factors in this game and series. Colorado has carried the play through the first five games, having a decisive edge in terms of shot attempts, scoring chances, and expected goals. Given their dominance in those areas this series should be well within their control. But it’s not. Tampa Bay is still very much in this and they have their all-world goalie, Andrei Vasilevskiy, to thank for it.

These situations are typically when he lifts his play to an even higher level and is at his absolute best.

Vasilevskiy is a major asset for the Lightning in any matchup, but especially here against a team that has a major weakness in goal.

Darcy Kuemper had a fine regular season and has a strong NHL track record, but he has not been great in the playoffs. Colorado has not needed him to steal many games, but given who is playing at the other end of the rink he still has little margin for error. He has allowed more than a handful of questionable goals in this series and he is going to have to make some saves if the Avalanche are going to close this series.

[RELATED: This is Andrei Vasilevskiy’s time to shine]

Cale Makar‘s continued excellence. If Colorado does win the series it seems like a given that Cale Makar will be the Conn Smythe winner, which will wrap up an incredible season that already includes his first Norris Trophy. He is putting up historic numbers this postseason for a defenseman and continues to average more than a point per game for his career in both the regular season and playoffs. For a defenseman, those numbers are staggering.

He also already has three multi-point games in this series alone.

No defenseman has had four multi-point games in a Stanley Cup Final series since Brian Leetch during the 1993-94 playoffs as a member of the New York Rangers.

• Not many teams go down 3-1 and force a Game 7 in the Stanley Cup Final.

Via the NHL:

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• Bednar does not want Avalanche to play safe. That was the word Bednar used to describe the Avalanche’s play in Game 5 of the series. He does not want them to play safe in Game 6 of the series, and instead play to their strengths. Which is attacking on offense. The wild thing about that is the Avalanche still has 37 shots on goal and were the better team for most of the game. If they can find an extra gear on top of that it is going to be a huge challenge for the Lightning.

• Lightning need to limit Avalanche power play. Colorado’s power play this postseason has been one of the best team-wide performances we have seen in the modern era, and it has played a significant role in this series. Not only are the Avalanche converting on more than 30 percent of their power plays this postseason, they have been especially productive on the road. Tampa Bay was able to limit Colorado to just two power play opportunities in Game 5 and did not allow a goal. The best penalty kill is staying out of the box. The second best penalty kill is having a great goalie. Tampa Bay has the latter. Just need to make sure it sticks with the former in Game 6 of the series.

2022 NHL playoff schedule: Stanley Cup Final

COLORADO AVALANCHE v. TAMPA BAY LIGHTNING (COL leads 3-2)

Game 1 – Avalanche 4, Lightning 3 (OT)
Game 2 – Avalanche 7, Lightning 0
Game 3 – Lightning 6, Avalanche 2
Game 4 – Avalanche 3, Lightning 2 (OT)
Game 5 – Lightning 3, Avalanche 2
Game 6 – June 26: Avalanche at Lightning, 8 p.m. ET (ABC, ESPN+, SN, CBC, TVA Sports)
*Game 7 – June 28: Lightning at Avalanche, 8 p.m. ET (ABC, ESPN+, SN, CBC, TVA Sports)

* if necessary

Avalanche vs. Lightning: What to watch for in Game 5 of 2022 Stanley Cup Final

Will the 2021-22 NHL season come to an end tonight? The Colorado Avalanche hold a 3-1 series lead over the Tampa Bay Lightning thanks to Nazem Kadri‘s overtime winner Wednesday night. Colorado is looking to win its third Stanley Cup in franchise history and first since 2001 when they beat the New Jersey Devils in seven games.

The Lightning haven’t faced elimination a ton since the sweep-that-launched-a-monster series in 2019 against the Columbus Blue Jackets. But they have Andrei Vasilevskiy, and as we saw after the first two games of this series, they won’t go down without a fight.

“There is no more tomorrows now. This is it,” said Lightning head coach Jon Cooper on Friday. “There’s no more mulligans. We’ve got to pull this one out.”

Let’s take a look at what to watch for ahead of Game 5 tonight from Ball Arena in Denver.

What to watch for in Game 5 of the 2022 Stanley Cup Final

• Avalanche managing emotions: Friday night could be a memorable one for the Avalanche players and organization. Winning a Stanley cup at home is a special experience, but while they hold a 3-1 series lead they cannot start thinking about celebrating — not with the two-time defending champions still in the fight.

“It’s a big opportunity for us. It’s an exciting game, an exciting moment,” said Avalanche head coach Jared Bednar. “You always hear about controlled emotion. I want us to use our nervous energy and emotion and play with passion and play hard and stay on our toes.”

• Moving past the “too many men” controversy: The Lightning are facing a tall task: beating the Avalanche in three straight games. Colorado has not dropped three in a row, or consecutive games, for that matter, since a slide to close out the regular season when they lost six out of their final eight. The way Game 4 ended, whether you believe Nazem Kadri’s goal should have counted or not, is in the past now.

“What’s great about today is that it’s not yesterday,” said Cooper on Thursday. “And now I got some excitement for Game 5, and that’s where my mind’s turning, on how to win that. Not [anything] we can do to turn back. They missed it. It’s unfortunate, but it’s water under the bridge now. Let’s go get ready. It should be a hell of a Game 5.”

NHL

[Stanley Cup Playoffs 2022 schedule, TV info]

• Rare territory for this Lightning run: Since Tampa Bay started this Cup run in 2020, having their backs against the wall in a series has not happened that often. In fact, Game 5 will be only the fourth time over the last three postseasons where they’ve faced elimination. In 2021, they beat the New York Islanders in Game 7 to advance to the Cup Final, and then earlier in these playoffs they knocked out the Toronto Maple Leafs in the First Round with wins in Games 6 and 7.

• A dominant run by the Avs: Should Colorado end the series in Game 5 they will finish the playoffs with a 16-3 record. According to the NHL, that would make them the first team since the 1987-88 Edmonton Oilers to finish a postseason with fewer than four losses. That Wayne Gretzky-led Oilers team went 16-2 as they won a fourth title in five seasons.

Another win would also tie the NHL record for most combined victories during the regular season and playoffs.

• A return for Burakovksy?: Bednar said that forward André Burakovsky is an “option” for Game 5. He has not played since blocking a shot with his hand in Game 2. Burakovsky, who has two goals in the series, including the Game 1 overtime winner, stayed behind in Denver as the team traveled to Tampa Bay for Games 3 and 4.

In other injury news, Lightning defenseman Erik Cernak took part in Friday’s optional skate after blocking a shot in the second period of Game 4. He did not return. Also hitting the ice was Brayden Point, who has been dealing with a lower-body injury since the First Round and last played in Game 2. Cooper did not rule him out for Game 5, labeling him a game-time decision.

COLORADO AVALANCHE v. TAMPA BAY LIGHTNING (COL leads 3-1)

Game 1 – Avalanche 4, Lightning 3 (OT)
Game 2 – Avalanche 7, Lightning 0
Game 3 – Lightning 6, Avalanche 2
Game 4 – Avalanche 3, Lightning 2 (OT)
Game 5 – June 24: Lightning at Avalanche, 8 p.m. ET (ABC, ESPN+, SN, CBC, TVA Sports)
*Game 6 – June 26: Avalanche at Lightning, 8 p.m. ET (ABC, ESPN+, SN, CBC, TVA Sports)
*Game 7 – June 28: Lightning at Avalanche, 8 p.m. ET (ABC, ESPN+, SN, CBC, TVA Sports)

* if necessary

————

Sean Leahy is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @Sean_Leahy.

NHL officiating back under microscope in Stanley Cup Final

Jon Cooper backtracked and shifted a possible missed call to the rearview mirror with the expertise of a coach who has been here before. Counterpart Jared Bednar, on the verge of his first NHL championship, sought to settle the issue once and for all and move on.

Still, the Stanley Cup Final is roaring toward a conclusion full of uncertainty about the officiating, which is in the spotlight for all the wrong reasons after Nazem Kadri’s overtime goal put the Colorado Avalanche up 3-1 in the best-of-seven series.

The goal came with what Cooper and his Tampa Bay Lightning thought was too many men on the ice. No penalty was called, and now the Avalanche are one victory away from knocking off the back-to-back defending champions.

“Will one call make the difference in the series? No,” Hall of Fame goaltender Grant Fuhr said in a phone interview. “Colorado was the better team in overtime, there’s no question. Do you hope it doesn’t end on a play like that? Yeah. You hope that it’s something nice and clean and simple because instead of talking about what a good hockey game it was, everybody’s talking about the play.”

The play in question involved Kadri — playing his first game of the final after injuring his right thumb — jumping on the ice for a line change early, with teammate Nathan MacKinnon still roughly 40 feet from the bench. When Kadri scored, MacKinnon still had a skate on the ice, and the joining player isn’t supposed to even touch the puck in that situation.

“Players, we’re looking for every inch to get an advantage and try and jump in the play when you know your change is coming,” Lightning defenseman Ryan McDonagh said Thursday. “It’s impossible to say what’s the right decision there. It’s so fast, and it probably happens a million more times a game more than we think.”

[Stanley Cup Playoffs 2022 schedule, TV info]

There’s some leeway for officials to judge too many men on the ice, and Tampa Bay technically had seven, though the players changing for each other were much closer to the home bench.

“You’re changing on the fly, everything happens,” Bednar said. “I count 7-6 at one point, so that is what it is. That’s the way the game is played. I don’t see it as a break or a non-break. I actually see it as nothing.”

In a statement sent to The Associated Press after Colorado’s 3-2 victory, the league’s Department of Hockey Operations deemed it a judgment call.

“In discussing the winning goal, each of the four officials advised that they did not see a too many men on the ice situation on the play,” the statement read. “This call is not subject to video review either by Hockey Ops or the on-ice officials.”

Should it be?

The NHL expanded video review in 2015 to coach’s challenges for offside and goaltender interference. Incidents in the 2019 playoffs led to more situations that coaches and officials can take an extra look at in the name of getting it right, though it’s limited to potential stoppages like a hand pass or the puck hitting the protective netting above the glass.

But at a time when video reviews put a drag on games in all sports and leagues are working to trim those extra minutes of precious time, there’s hardly an appetite for the NHL to make everything subject to replay.

General managers will undoubtedly discuss this at the draft in Montreal next month, and perhaps the long-debated, so-called “eye in the sky” third referee concept will pick up steam. That could address at least the most obvious missed calls that might be seen and caught better from atop an arena than in the middle of all the action on the ice.

“They’ve got the hardest job in sport,” Fuhr said of NHL officials. “The game’s gotten bigger, faster and they have to keep up and there’s going to be missed calls along the way. That’s just hockey.”

Hotly debated calls have long been a part of hockey, and many New York Islanders fans were quick to point out the Lightning appeared to have too many men on the ice for the only goal in Game 7 of the Eastern Conference final last year. Philadelphia Flyers fans still bring up the “Leon Stickle Game” when the linesman of that name missed an obvious offside on an Islanders goal in the 1980 clinching game of their first of four Stanley Cup championships in a row.

Hall of Famer Bryan Trottier, a star of that Islanders dynasty who won his seventh Cup title as an Avalanche assistant in 2001 and is coaching in the new 3ICE 3-on-3 league with Fuhr, said winning is about managing “the lucky bounce, the fortuitous bounce, the referee call: the something that can happen that’s out of your control that just kind of goes against you.”

“Those things, they can go for you or against you,” Trottier said. “You’ve got to take advantage when they go for you, and you’ve got to just move on when they go against you.”

Another judgment call earlier in the Game 4 allowed a Lightning goal to count after the puck shot at Avalanche goaltender Darcy Kuemper knocked his mask off, with officials deciding not to stop play because the rulebook states it should continue if a scoring chance is in progress.

Before flying to Denver for Game 5 on Friday with his team down 3-1, Cooper tried to move on. Little more than 12 hours since he was nearly speechless, he called hockey “an inexact science” and sought to distance himself — sort of — from how Game 4 ended.

“What’s great about today is that it’s not yesterday,” Cooper said. “Nothing we can do to turn back. They missed it. It’s unfortunate, but it’s water under the bridge now. Let’s go get ready.”

If the goal to all but clinch the Stanley Cup is scored and no one sees it, did it really happen?

The game-winning moment came with just less than eight minutes left in the first overtime period. Kadri, who hadn’t played since he broke his thumb on a hit by Edmonton Oiler Evander Kane on June 4, found a seam through Tampa’s defense for a sneaky, solid shot on net. Tampa goaltender Andrei Vasilevskiy was fantastic in overtime, prolonging the pain of defeat for as long as humanly possible.

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Kadri’s shot beat Vasilevskiy seven-hole, between the arm and leg, blocker-side. The puck’s trajectory sent it into the top of the net, finding mysterious lodging in between the meshing and back bar. Vasilevskiy is sprawled down on the ice, and it wouldn’t have been shocking to see the Russian make another phenomenal save. No one close could find the puck, although some faces of cheer and anguish in the crowd tell the entire story. On the ice, the first player to make clear he knows the puck is in the net is Colorado defenseman Bowen Byram, who frantically pointed to the rubber, alerting the official standing inches from it.

The realization slowly matriculated through the arena and set in on television. One of the most important goals of the season started with a whimper. I can’t remember a goal of that magnitude, a game-clincher in the Stanley Cup, where almost everyone lost the puck. Shots that hit the back bar and come rolling out of the net are common. Pucks that get stuck out of plain sight aren’t.

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The Wile E. Coyote overhead cam showed the proof easily for anyone doubting the result. The overtime goal is a microcosm of the series. Tampa is just a step slower than Colorado. This has been ingrained throughout most of the four games between the teams. The Lightning proved to be the class of the Eastern Conference, and nd their road to a three-peat is now a nearly impossible one thanks to a goal that almost no one caught live.

That’s the difference between the goalies

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Meanwhile, Darcy Kuemper was doing stuff like this:

Maroon buries the 5th and ends Kuempers night!

Cirelli goes 5-hole to tie it!

Flip the goalies, and the Avs probably win last night. In statistical terms, at all strengths the Lightning created 3.03 expected goals in the first two periods last night. They scored six goals. The Avs created 2.26 and were held to two. Vasilevskiy didn’t have to perform miracles, just kept the Avs to what they earned. But it was far better than what was going on at the other end.

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This has been the story for Kuemper all playoffs, who has put up a -5.8 goals above (or below in this case) expected throughout the playoffs in 13 appearances. It hasn’t mattered much to the Avs, who have just trucked whoever has been in front of them until Game 3 against the Bolts, basically. But that’s how good they have to be to outrun Kuemper’s performance.

Analytically, there is something of a question of what the Avs should do in net. In seven appearances during Kuemper’s injury absence, Pavel Francouz has been exactly even in terms of goals given up over expected. Sure, he hasn’t seen anything quite like the firepower that the Lightning can offer (more on this in a sec), but he also won four games against Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl. However, as various towel-snappers will tell you, the games aren’t played on the statsheets. Avs coach Jared Bednar won’t want to start a whole firestorm by making a switch. Because if it doesn’t work, then what do you do? And yet he’s only got one or two more Kuemper pants-shittings to spare while Vasilevskiy gets more and more attuned to his Avs.

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What might save Bednar and the Avs, if they need saving at all, is that the Lightning might not have anyone left to fill out the roster. Brayden Point’s brave but ultimately handicapped attempt to return in Games 1 and 2 was ended in Game 3 as he was scratched. It was clear he just wasn’t himself in Denver. Nick Paul and Nikita Kucherov both left Game 3 with injuries (though Paul kept returning and leaving like the Undertaker gimmick gone wrong, but was clearly limping). The Avs have their own injury problems, with Nazem Kadri looking less likely to return and being unable to shoot the puck if he does, Samuel Girard already out, Andre Burakovsky’s status up in the air. This is getting to be attrition as much as it is matchups and strategy to find open ice.

Whenever this series is decided, and whoever wins though, the most likely balance point will be just how much the Avs can shrink the distance between the goalies. Vasilevskiy is unlikely to have another Game 2 where the walls cave in. Can the Avs merely get goaltending that keeps things on a level between what should be and what is on the scoreboard? That’s all it should take, but Kuemper hasn’t proven he can do that. 

Lightning-Avalanche Stanley Cup Final chess match underway

DENVER (AP) — Jon Cooper told his Tampa Bay Lightning players in the locker room following their Game 1 loss they need to be a lot better to take out the Colorado Avalanche in the Stanley Cup Final.

After a day of rest, they got to work figuring out just how to do that.

The two-time defending champion Lightning are no strangers to making adjustments and bouncing back in a playoff series. Their biggest test begins with trying to slow down the speedy Avalanche, who have their own tweaks to make in the chess match that has now begun going into Game 2 on Saturday night.

“We’re dissecting the game by zone, by special teams, by breakouts, by forecheck,” Cooper said. “There’s so many different things that go into it.”

Based on a lack of familiarity facing an opponent from the opposite conference, the start of a final is more of a learning process than series earlier in the playoffs, and it took experiencing — and at times getting flustered by — Colorado’s pace for Tampa Bay to know exactly what to expect.

“You can never really understand it until you feel it in the first game like that,” forward Nick Paul said Friday. “They definitely have speed throughout their lineup, and they love to go on the attack and hunt. They make good reads whether they’re trying to dump pucks or when to try and carry it, so you’ve constantly got to be pushing yourself to have a good gap to force them to get the puck out of their hands.”

What to do with the puck was a big focus for each team during practice Friday. After star defenseman Cale Makar failed to put a shot on goal for the first time all playoffs, despite being one of the NHL’s best at doing so, the Avalanche must figure to find a way to put more rubber on Tampa Bay goaltender Andrei Vasilevskiy.

They were expecting the Lightning to block a lot of shots, and they did by getting in front of 25 in Game 1. There will be some adjustments, but don’t expect Colorado players to be hesitant about shooting.

“You still have to throw it there,” defenseman Josh Manson said. “You don’t want to just hold on to it and try and find that perfect lane. So, I think we got to just do that: keep moving our feet and throwing it there.”

Getting the puck out of their defensive zone is paramount for the Lightning, knowing what can happen when the Avalanche are on the attack. A major emphasis from the coaching staff is putting speed bumps in the way however possible without taking an unnecessary interference penalty.

“The biggest thing is just making sure you lay body, whether it’s a hard hit, whether it’s a nudge and stand up on them because they transition so quick,” Paul said. “You’re just making reads, staying above guys and trying to force turnovers.”

Each side is concentrating on trying to cut down mistakes.

For Makar, it’s about being better defensively than he was on Nikita Kucherov’s move to set up a goal by Ondrej Palat in the series opener. Fellow Norris Tropy finalist Victor Hedman said in Swedish he needs to be better after a tough night in Game 1.

The Lightning also expect Vasilevskiy to be better after allowing at least one soft goal and perhaps two in the opener. It was the first time he had allowed three goals in the first period of a playoff game in his NHL career.

History indicates Vasilevskiy will bring his best. Tampa Bay is 18-1 after a loss over the past three postseasons, and its elite goaltender has a lot to do with that, stopping 509 of 542 shots for a 1.57 goals-against average and .939 save percentage.

“Vasy, his mental strength is out of the world,” Hedman said. “We’re very confident when we have him back there. The record’s not a fluke, but we can’t rely on that either. We just got to go out there and execute our game plan a little bit better than we did in Game and help Vasy a little bit more: Let him see the pucks, he’s going to make those stops. But it helps having the best guy in the world back there.”