The Avalanche have looked like an absolute juggernaut all season, and that has continued to be the case in the playoffs. Despite possessing two of hockey's most elite players in Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl, the Edmonton Oilers were no match for the Avalanche in the Western Conference Final. Colorado ended up outscoring Edmonton 22-13 in a four-game sweep, including a heart-pounding 6-5 overtime win in Game 4 to clinch the Western Conference.
However, it was at a cost as the Avalanche lost star winger Nazem Kadri to a thumb injury.
Meanwhile, the Tampa Bay Lightning battled through their fair share of adversity in the Eastern Conference Final.
The New York Rangers had the Lightning in an 0-2 hole, but that's when the Lightning woke up. Tampa Bay went on to win the next four games behind stellar efforts from goaltender Andrei Vasilevskiy. After surrendering six goals in Game 1, Vasilevskiy allowed just one goal in each of the final three games of the series. Now the Lightning will be looking to win their third consecutive Stanley Cup and cement themselves as one of the greatest NHL dynasties that the sport has ever seen.
The Stanley Cup Final is slated to begin on Wednesday with the Lightning set to host Game 1. With the Stanley Cup matchup set, our NHL experts revealed their predictions for which team will hoist Lord Stanley's Cup.
(1) Avalanche vs. (3) Lightning
Chris Bengel: This is about as evenly matched of a Stanley Cup Final that we've ever seen. Stellar offense versus exceptional goaltending. The amount of star power is through the roof.
I am not going to be surprised in the slightest if this ends up being a long series. While it's so tough to pick against a team going for their third straight Stanley Cup, I have to take the Avalanche to win it all. This lethal offense is averaging a mind-numbing 4.6 goals-per-game throughout the postseason and is tied for the most goals. That's what happens when you have a roster that features the likes of Nathan MacKinnon, Cale Makar, Mikko Rantanen, and Gabriel Landeskog.
Oh, and Nazem Kadri could return at some point in the series after undergoing thumb surgery. The Lightning do have the advantage in net, but there's just too much firepower on the Colorado side of this matchup.
Pick -- Avalanche beat Lightning 4-3
Austin Nivison: The Avalanche were my Stanley Cup pick before these playoffs began, and they are 12-2 with a pair of sweeps through three rounds. Yet, I am really struggling to choose Colorado here. The Lightning have been brilliant en route to their third straight Stanley Cup Final appearance, with what most would consider to be a much tougher path than the one Colorado faced.
I'm hesitant on the Avs because they are at a clear disadvantage in net. Darcy Kuemper ranks 26th amongst all goalies this postseason with -3.65 goals saved above average, per Natural Stat Trick, and he is coming back from an injury suffered in the last round. By comparison, Andrei Vasilevskiy ranks third with 8.05 goals saved above average.
On paper, I think Tampa Bay is deeper on the blue line, but they don't have anyone quite like Cale Makar. Victor Hedman is a bona fide star, but Makar has the ability to take the game over at the offensive end. Up front, the Avalanche have star power and depth at forward, perhaps their biggest advantage in this matchup, but the status of Nazem Kadri is a big question mark. By the same token, a potential Brayden Point return looms large for the Lightning.
Colorado has the ability to overwhelm opponents for long stretches, but I'm not sure that will happen against this Lightning team. Tampa Bay has done a lot of winning in the last few years, and those players won't be rattled when Ball Arena erupts after a quick goal or two from the Avs. I can't believe I'm doing this, but I am flipping my Stanley Cup pick from the Avalanche to the Lightning.
Pick – Lightning beat Avalanche 4-2