Stanley Cup picks: 4 best bets for Lightning vs Avalanche Game 1
Andrew Berkshire provides his best NHL picks and predictions for Game 1 of the Stanley Cup Finals between the Tampa Bay Lightning and Colorado Avalanche.
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The Stanley Cup Finals have arrived. The Colorado Avalanche made it to where everyone predicted they would, and the Tampa Bay Lightning have defied the odds to make the final again for the third straight year, the first team to do so since the 1980’s New York Islanders.
The random nature of hockey often leads to at least one unexpected team making it to the very end, but this year, you could easily make the argument that these are the two best teams in the league. The buzz around the league is electric, and this series has the potential to be a classic.
The Avalanche haven’t played a game in eight days, and if there’s anything we learned from the Lightning in Round 3 against the Rangers, it’s that rust wins out over rest for a team that’s been sitting too long. The Lightning were clearly the vastly superior team in that series, but it took them until game three to find their feet.
The Avs likely won’t take two full games to get back to what we’re used to, but don’t be surprised if they’re a little slow out of the gate in this one, while the Lightning won’t be missing a beat after only having a few days off after taking out the Rangers.
Although the Lightning have a slight advantage coming into the series on a roll, the Avalanche are deeper, and for my money, a little better. The secret to their success is the top pairing of Cale Makar and Devon Toews. Dimitri Filipovic ran the numbers not long ago and found that when those two were in the lineup for the Avalanche, they’ve gone 63-9-6 and outscored opponents by 121 goals this season. Absurd.
The one question for the Avalanche is whether either Darcy Kuemper or Pavel Francouz be close enough to Andrei Vasilevskiy’s performance for the Avalanche to win. Kuemper has had a rotten postseason, but being this close to the Stanley Cup brings the most out of everyone.
Makar is averaging over 3.5 shots on goal per game in this postseason, and with the lock-it-down style defense that the Lightning have played since Brayden Point went down with an injury, generating offense from the blueline will be key for the Avalanche. This probably a bet you can feel good about in every game of this series.
One thing that’s been consistent about the Lightning’s excellent play of late is that the driving force has been Ondrej Palat. Brayden Point has been out with an injury, Nikita Kucherov is playing well but also seems a little hurt, and Palat has gone from complementary player to big time difference maker.
Palat registered eight points in the series against New York, including seven in the last four games – all Lightning wins. If the Lightning are going to take game one, it’s a good bet that Palat is going to be a difference maker in that result.