Tonight marks the start of the 2022 Stanley Cup Finals. By far, the two best teams are in the championship this year. The Tampa Bay Lightning are the defending 2020 & 2021 champions returning for their shot at a third straight cup. The Colorado Avalanche are looking for their first Stanley Cup since their victory in 2001 over the New Jersey Devils in a series that went 7 games.
To give some perspective on this matchup, let’s look at how these two teams arrived at the finals:
Starting with the Tampa Bay Lightning, their first round against the Maple Leafs was not an easy one. This series was stretched to the full seven games ending in a 2-1 victory for the Lightning in game seven. Games 5, 6, and 7 of this series were decided by one goal with game six going into OT.
On the other hand, the Avalanche squared off against the Nashville Predators in their first-round matchup. Colorado made quick work for this series, sweeping Nashville 4-0 while showing an impressive offensive output of seven goals in two of those four games.
The Lightning played the Florida Panthers in the Eastern Conference semifinals. Tampa Bay had no trouble in this series, sweeping the Panthers in four games. This series was the turning point that the Lightning needed to build momentum going into their Eastern Conference finals against the New York Rangers.
At the Western Conference semifinals, the Avalanche took on the St. Louis Blues. Although this series went six games, the Avalanche showed they were superior, outscoring the Blues 22-18 in that stretch. Two OT games showed the resiliency of both teams, but in game six, the Avalanche scored the game-winning goal with 5.6 seconds remaining in the third period, leaving the Blues with no time to answer back. Colorado would move on to face the Edmonton Oilers in the Western Conference finals.
With the Rangers making the most entertaining run of the playoffs, the Lightning had their hands full with a team that seemed destined to make the finals this year. When the Rangers took the first two games in Tampa Bay, the public was shocked. It looked as if the Lightning had met their match. However, the Lightning came into New York for game 3 and never looked back. Not only did Tampa Bay win that game, but they won the next three in a row, giving them the series win at 4-2 to punch their third straight trip to the Stanley Cup finals.
In the Westen Conference finals, the Avalanche dominated the Oilers in four straight games, sweeping the series and outscoring Edmonton 22-13. Game four was decided in OT by a reviewed goal in favor of Colorado. With this win, the Avalanche secured their spot in the Stanley Cup finals for the first time in over twenty years.
Colorado’s Edge for Game 1:
In this matchup, my best bet is going to be with the Avalanche at home. It was difficult to decide this based on their head-to-head matchups alone. These two teams have played five times over the last five years with Colorado winning three of those matchups. This year, they played each other on February 10th in Colorado with the Avalanche winning 3-2. I see no advantage here from that win from four months ago.
Looking at the injury reports for both sides, it’s no surprise that both teams are banged up. Obviously, as both teams have continued in the NHL playoffs, more players are not at 100%. Both teams have key players missing for game one, including Burakovsky for Colorado (inactive) and Point for the lightning (lower body). Again, I see no edge here for either side.
For the goalies, most people have agreed that the Lightning should have the advantage here with Vasilevskiy playing almost lights out in the last series against the Rangers. Rightfully so, Vasilevskiy has the experience advantage with almost 6000 minutes of ice time and facing almost 3000 shots on goal in his career in the playoffs. However, the Avalanche are trusting their ace in Darcy Kuemper, who showed an impressive .927 save percentage since December with a 28-7-4 record in that stretch. I’ll give the edge to the Lightning here, but not by much.
There is an extreme difficulty of winning on the road in the NHL playoffs. This has been apparent this year in the playoffs with home teams dominating the home-ice advantage. Colorado has been one of those teams difficult to beat at home all season with a 32-5-4 record in the regular season. In the playoffs, the Avalanche have a home record of 5-2 with a 29-20 goals advantage over their opponents. On the road this year, Tampa Bay has an overall record of 24-15-2 in the regular season. In the playoffs, the Lightning are 5-4 in road games and have been outscored 23-25 in those nine games. I do not imagine seeing either team during this series not having the advantage at home, so the edge here goes to Colorado.
Finally, Vegas oddsmakers are more intelligent than most people on Earth. Not only are the Avalanche favored to win tonight, but they are favored to win the series. According to Covers.com, the series prices are set at Tampa Bay with +145 (Bet $100 to win $145) and Colorado with -170 (Bet $170 to win $100). That says a lot with the Lightning being the two-time defending champion. I can see the reasoning behind this being that there is more pressure on Tampa Bay in this series than Colorado. With the Lightning having the chance to three-peat against a team that hasn’t won the cup since 2001, you would think the advantage is with the experience in Tampa Bay. However, Vegas says otherwise.
With Vegas on their side, their record at home this season and in the playoffs, my best bet tonight in game one is with the Colorado Avalanche Moneyline. This game should be a one-goal difference to the Avalanche and low scoring on both sides. Look for the final score to be either 2-1 or 3-2 in favor of Colorado.
Best Bet: Avalanche ML for 1U (-150)
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