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The Stanley Cup Final - The cherry on top

(NHLPA/Getty Images)

The Avalanche and Lightning came storming into an intriguing Cup Final

By: Mitchell Fox

The 2022 NHL Playoffs may have ended the same way as any other playoffs but after two strange seasons hampered by the pandemic, this one brought something much greater than a return to normal.

To cap off a playoffs that brought superstar performances, gut-wrenching games and exhilarating series, the 2022 Stanley Cup Final saw a meeting between two of the NHL’s best teams.

The Colorado Avalanche came away with a hard-earned, deserved victory in the end, but the Tampa Bay Lightning were a more than worthy opponent in a final that put the cherry on top of a playoffs for the ages.

The reigning back-to-back Stanley Cup champs were taking on an Avalanche team that had continuously succeeded in the regular season, (finishing fourth in 2019, and second in 2020 and 2021) but struggled to surpass the second round of the playoffs.

Perhaps Cale Makar put it best in a media availability before the beginning of the series.

“They’re a team that’s looking to have a dynasty. We’re a team trying to start a legacy,” he said.

With dynasties and legacies in the conversation, there was no wonder fans were on their toes before the games had even started. A storm was brewing. The only question left was which form it would take in the end.

The answer? An avalanche.

After the Avalanche took game one thanks to a goal from Andre Burakovsky less than two minutes into overtime, they found the momentum they would need for the series, following up with a shocking 7-0 victory in game two.

Those first two games served as proof the Avalanche could match the Lightning’s ability to steal wins in clutch fashion and could impose their destructive scoring ability on anybody, even the staunch-defending reigning champs and their all-star goaltender.

But just in case these playoffs were not unpredictable enough, the Lightning bounced back with a dominant win of their own in game three. The 6-2 victory featured scoring from all throughout the Tampa Bay lineup and even saw Avalanche goaltender Darcy Kuemper pulled in favour of Pavel Francouz.

The Lightning showed themselves to be a worthy opponent for the Western Conference’s best team, giving the Avalanche their biggest loss of the postseason (a 4-1 loss to the Blues was their only multi-goal loss to that point). However, the optimism would only last so long.

In game four, the Avalanche found a way to win one of the more exciting hockey games of the playoffs. Though the Lightning came out strong on the back of the energy of their home fans, they would come away from the first period with only one goal. Two more periods would see the teams go toe-to-toe and a score of 2-2 at the end of regulation. In overtime, Nazem Kadri scored one of the most stunning goals of the playoffs, gaining speed from the neutral zone, coming in one-on-three and managing to chip one off and past the shoulder of Vasilevskiy.

However, it would come with some controversy, as Jon Cooper said after the game that the “we probably still should be playing.” He was of course referring to a belief that the Avalanche had six skaters on the ice at the time of the goal and should have been called for too many men. The result was a frustrating but also fascinating discourse on social media.

The thing is, none of this really mattered. What mattered was that Kadri (who had an incredible regular season and a great playoffs and was playing only a little over a week since breaking multiple bones in his thumb) had scored the winner, the game had ended and the Avalanche were on the brink of winning the Stanley Cup.

The Lightning would threaten with a 3-2 victory of their own in game five, but unlike in their past series, their ability to overcome series deficits would not be seen this time around.

The Avalanche put on a show in game six. Steven Stamkos opened the scoring for the Lightning, but Nathan MacKinnon would tie it up early in the second period before trade deadline acquisition Arturri Lehkonen would beat Andrei Vasilevskiy, putting the Avalanche ahead with about seven minutes left in the second period. From there, the Avs shut the Lightning down, making puck possession look easy and giving a dynamic Tampa offence next to no scoring chances as the game and series came to a close.

The Avalanche had done it. They had dethroned the champs and they won the Stanley Cup.

The wild celebrations that followed on the ice that night and over the course of the next week would be well-deserved for a team that finished the playoffs 16-4 and had outscored their opponents 85-55 (a +30 goal differential – in comparison, the Lightning finished with a +6 goal differential).

It was one of the most dominant and deserved Stanley Cup victories in a long time, but significantly, it came at the end of an incredible playoffs. There were close games and blowouts, incredible individual performances and impressive team wins, sweeps and seven-game series and everything in between.

In the end, the 2022 NHL playoffs provided fans with an opportunity to enjoy hockey for what it is: a sport, a game, an opportunity to come together and watch the best of the best show why they are the best of the best. After a couple of tough years and two very strange seasons in 2020 and 2021, the 2022 playoffs brought everything great hockey needs.


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