Denver – The Colorado Avalanche has always aspired to become the Tampa Bay Lightning. Now, Lightning stands between the avalanche and their first Stanley Cup win since 2001.
Two-time champions Lightning topped the New York Rangers in Game Six of the Eastern Conference Finals on Saturday to reach the Cup Final for the third time in a row, which opens here on Wednesday. The distinction of Tampa Bay is what these avalanches are after. And now, it’s within reach — if only they could pull off the heavyweights in the NHL.
“The way I look at it is, to be the best you have to expect to be able to beat the best,” Avs coach Jared Bednar said on Sunday. They are the team everyone is trying to design after. They are in the final for the third year in a row. They have won twice in a row. That’s what every team is trying to do, not just be there but stay there and be relevant every season in all the conversations With the best teams in the league and he continues to prove that they are one.”
Colorado has already laid the foundation there. Avalanche was 12-2 so far in the Stanley Cup playoffs, swept both the first-round series against Nashville and the Western Conference Finals against Edmonton. Colorado has been idle since taking Clarence Campbell-Powell on June 6, waiting to see if the Lightning or the Rangers will be the final match.
It was poetic, in a way, to see Tampa Bay come (again). Colorado could measure itself directly against the club that has dominated its sport in the past two years, with the hope of succeeding Tampa Bay in the role.
“It’s a really good team, but we’re also confident in ourselves,” said Colorado defender Bowen Byram. “We have a really good team. Reaching the final of the Cup is not easy. We are excited about it [it]. They have a really good team and we have to do everything we can to beat them. But we are excited about this challenge.”
Bednar admitted that Colorado hasn’t faced a team like Tampa Bay in the postseason. Lightning has an excellent kick from Andrei Vasilevskiy (.928 SV%, 2.27 GAA through 17 playoffs) and is aggressive in boxing teams around the net. Bednar said his focus on preparing for Tampa Bay started when they took a 3-2 lead over New York, but the key is Colorado not being afraid of the future.
“We have to play with our identity,” he said. “We have specific keys to look at and things to try to achieve in the attacking area. You have to start with our skating. They are a real deep team, a team that is very committed on the defensive side of things, offensively dangerous. Great goalkeepers. They are back where they are for a reason, right? This is a very difficult team to win against. We have to be ready for the challenge.”
The main advantage that Tampa Bay has is to try the supplement – and learn how to win when it counts. This is “invaluable” to the Lightning this time of year and the factors that make them such a deep and formidable opponent, Colorado captain Gabriel Landeskoge said.
Where Colorado will try to excel is using its last rest as a weapon. When Tampa had a nine-day vacation between the end of the second round of its Florida sweep and the puck’s touchdown against New York, there was obvious rust that contributed to its 2-0 deficit. Colorado didn’t have the same problem between the first and second round matches. Nor does the avalanche think the current eight-day break will be a problem either.
“We don’t use anything as an excuse,” Landeskog said. “We’ll make sure we train hard, rest and get ready to go. That’s just the group we have. We’re ready for what we need to do. I think rest is a good thing in the long run.”
What matters most to Colorado is the opportunity that still exists: to compete and win the long-awaited Cup.
“It’s exciting to play and to know you’re one of the last two teams,” Landeskog said. “But the toughest round is still ahead. That’s an exciting challenge and it’s going to be fun to see what we can do as a group. I think we’ve played some really strong hockey for the last six weeks or so, and we want to keep that up.”