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Saturday, July 2, 2022

Avalanche must beat two-time champion Lightning to win the cup

DENVER ( Associated Press) — Nathan McKinnon wouldn’t have it any other way.

He and the Colorado Avalanche have stubbed their toes in the playoffs several times over the years, not progressing past the second round. Now that they’re broke to reach the Stanley Cup Finalsnaturally they need to bang their backs -to support The defending champion Tampa Bay Lightning won the first title of this core group.

Game 1 is in Denver on Wednesday night.

“I’m glad we’re playing Tampa,” McKinnon said Tuesday. “There’s no Cinderella story or anything: two of the best teams in the league are going to take on this and are really excited for this challenge. And it’s going to be very, very hard, but I believe in this group and all of us.” Believe in each other. Hope we get it done.”

Colorado is Favored According to FanDuel Sportsbook, but must defeat an opponent who has won 11 consecutive playoff series. The Lightning became the NHL’s gold standard for success in the pay cap era and would join the company of hockey dynasties if they became the first players to be beaten three times since lifting the cup four times in a row from 1980–84.

McKinnon would try to follow the lead of fellow Coal Harbor, Nova Scotia, native Sidney Crosby, who won his first championship in 2009 when Pittsburgh defeated defending champions Detroit in the final. The Lightning are the first team to reach the finals in three consecutive years since Wayne Gretzky’s Edmonton Oilers from 1983–85.

“They’ve been the best for a while, and we have the opportunity to get them off the pedestal,” said Colorado defenseman Kale Makar. “We’re trying to start something special here, and they’re trying to continue with something that will turn into a dynasty for them. You can’t write it better than this.”

This Cup Showdown Has A Lightning Captain Steven Stamkos Shocked Didn’t happen before. While he and his teammates have been making playoff runs for a long time, the Avalanche were among the Titans of the West and were predicted to do the same.

Colorado instead lost in the first round in 2018 and in each of the last three seasons. Like Tampa Bay being swept away in the first round in 2019, those defeats strengthened the avalanche and prepared them for the challenge.

“Definitely learned a lot from myself in the last five, six years, our team after some heartbreak in the playoffs,” said coach Jared Bednar. “Even the last few years I think have made us a stronger group, a more resilient group.”

Lightning knows all about showing resilience in years past and after this season. They needed to overcome a series deficit in the first round to avoid elimination, 3–2 against Toronto and then 2–0 to the New York Rangers in the pre-finals. They also fell behind in the third period of Game 7 at the Maple Leafs and came back for the win.

Coach John Cooper said, “It’s been a big topic of ours, putting its stamp on history, and you can’t do that without winning and committing and doing all the stuff and not exhaling.” “The guys have done a wonderful job, especially in the Toronto series when we were down 3-2. When there is no tomorrow, they gave us two more months of tomorrow.

almost full force

The Lightning ended their comeback against Toronto – and got through the next two rounds – without first-line center Brayden Point, who had previously injured his right leg in Game 7.

If Point returns for Game 1 as expected after skating well in practice, Tampa Bay will be in full force against Colorado without injury to Nazem Qadri and Andrew Cogliano and in the second round. Dismissed defenseman Samuel Girard after breaking his sternum.

“We still have to see,” Point said. “I don’t think anything is guaranteed, but it’s fun to be out with the team again and to be a part of it.

Championship Pedigree

Tampa Bay’s Stamkos, Viktor Heidman, Nikita Kucherov, Ondrej Palat and Alex Kilorn are in the finals for the fourth time since 2015. The Lightning reached the East Finals at least six times in that period.

Stamkos, who has lived here before and experienced the thrill of victory, said he and his teammates deliberately talk about not wasting another chance to win the cup.

“Our group is too good to not give ourselves the chance to compete for the Stanley Cup, and we have shown that, especially this year,” he said. “We’ve been down in certain situations. We never panic. We stick to what makes us successful, and I’m proud of that effort and here we are.

Avalanche Experience

Colorado has two players who have won the cup before: Andre Burakovsky with Washington in 2018 and Darren Helm with Detroit in 2008. There are more cup rings in the front office with general manager Joe Sakik, who captained the Avalanche in the franchise’s first championship. 1996 is the year the team moved from Quebec to Denver and won it in 2001 as well.

That was the organization’s most recent championship, and now his team is trying to emulate Tampa Bay to bring back the cup.

“It’s a group that believes in each other, and we believe in them,” Sakic said. “You looked at the years with Tampa. Look at them now, they are two-time Stanley Cup champions and are looking for their third. And we want to dethrone the champs.”

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Follow Associated Press Hockey writer Stephen Whyno on Twitter https://twitter.com/SHowno

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More Associated Press NHL: https://apnews.com/hub/NHL and https://twitter.com/AP_Sports

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