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The Wraparound: Can Lightning actually slow down Avalanche?

With the matchup set for the 2022 Stanley Cup Final featuring the Colorado Avalanche and Tampa Bay Lightning, Pro Hockey Talk previews what to expect from both teams.

The Wraparound is your daily look at the 2022 NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs. We’ll break down the NHL playoff game today with the all-important television information.

• After a long wait (especially for the Avalanche), the 2022 Stanley Cup Final kicks off with Game 1, as the Lightning aim for a three-peat. The festivities kick off at 8 p.m. ET.

• What better way to say “gee, the coaching market is hot!” than to note that a Winnipeg bar is offering Barry Trotz free beer for life if he coaches the Jets? (We’ll see if it works out better than the Columbus vodka offer for Artemi Panarin.)

In attempting to three-peat as Stanley Cup champions, the Lightning have been a shapeshifter of a team. They’ve played whatever style that was necessary to succeed.

Personally, if there’s an overarching trend to the third playoff run of the Lightning’s three-peat bid, it’s been how willing Tampa Bay is to grind things down to a slog. They did just enough of it to survive the Maple Leafs. Without Brayden Point, the Lightning swept one team that may (at times) out-rush and out-chance the Avalanche, in the Panthers. Finally, they flipped the 2022 Eastern Conference Final on its head once they shut down the Rangers’ cross-seam passes and negated their speed.

So, stranger things have happened. But if I were to place a bet, it would be on the Lightning trying to slow down the Avalanche. That brings up the obvious question, then. Can they?

[NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs 2022 schedule, TV info]

Again, there’s evidence that the answer is “Yes.” Or at least yes, to a point that it makes a difference.

Prior experience helps, and that’s not just a comment about the narrative of the master (Lightning) trying to hold off the pupil (Avalanche). The Lightning gained useful reps slowing down high-octane offenses already in these playoffs. Slowing the Rangers power play may be good training for the Avalanche’s attack. But, maybe most crucially, the Lightning were able to reduce the Panthers to quantity-over-quality.

Theoretically, the Lightning might accept that the Avalanche will efficiently enter the zone, and focus mostly on giving them nothing in the slot.

Looking at “All Three Zones” stats from Corey Sznajder, you may note one area where the juggernaut Avalanche offense (and the defensive machine that feeds that offense) can be closer to average. For whatever reason (maybe limiting risks?), the Avalanche aren’t overly prolific at creating high-danger passes.

HD Passes (Teams)

[NHL Power Rankings: X-Factors for 2022 Stanley Cup Final]

You know all of those (reasonable) questions about Avs goaltending? When their locomotive defense-to-offense machine is humming, it can make goalie issues as close to irrelevant as you can get in this league.

Just consider how far they’ve come without strong netminding. At times, you’d be forgiven if you didn’t really notice.

Of their opponents so far, the Blues enjoyed some relative success slowing the Avalanche down. At least at times. Eventually, they were overwhelmed.

Both the Oilers and the Predators really had no answer for Cale Makar, Nathan MacKinnon, and others invading their zone. During early portions of the Oilers - Avalanche series, it was downright sobering.

None of the teams the Avalanche faced were even close to as equipped to handle Colorado’s attack as the Lightning are, defensively speaking. If it’s clear that this series stalls to being slower, and low-event, does Colorado have that gear?

Perhaps some of it will come down to the last change. It may be easier for someone like Nathan MacKinnon to roam free and create havoc if Anthony Cirelli’s off the ice.

[How they were built: Avalanche / Lightning]

One other consideration is rested vs. tired legs. Playing a more conservative style makes sense for the Lightning. As much as anything else, it can “conserve” their limited energy. Yet, it’s possible that Cale Makar’s unusual mobility (combined with fantastic transition chops from Bowen Byram and Devon Toews) may force Tampa Bay out of a trap-like shell. Holding the blueline may not be so easy when you have speedy/agile players like MacKinnon and Makar frequently changing the geometry of the ice. Being tired and beat up won’t help.

My guess is that the Lightning will, at times, clog things up against the Avalanche. They’re underrated at clamping things down -- possibly in part from staring down Barry Trotz’s Islanders for two punishing playoff series.

If anyone can do it, it’s Jon Cooper’s crew. Considering all of the battles the Bolts have been through, it’s really saying something but ... this might be their greatest test yet.

2022 Stanley Cup Final schedule


Game 1 – June 15: Lightning at Avalanche, 8 p.m. ET (ABC, ESPN+, SN, CBC, TVA Sports)
Game 2 – June 18: Lightning at Avalanche, 8 p.m. ET (ABC, ESPN+, SN, CBC, TVA Sports)
Game 3 – June 20: Avalanche at Lightning, 8 p.m. ET (ABC, ESPN+, SN, CBC, TVA Sports)
Game 4 – June 22: Avalanche at Lightning, 8 p.m. ET (ABC, ESPN+, SN, CBC, TVA Sports)
*Game 5 – June 24: Lightning at Avalanche, 8 p.m. ET (ABC, ESPN+, SN, CBC, TVA Sports)
*Game 6 – June 26: Avalanche at Lightning, 8 p.m. ET (ABC, ESPN+, SN, CBC, TVA Sports)
*Game 7 – June 28: Lightning at Avalanche, 8 p.m. ET (ABC, ESPN+, SN, CBC, TVA Sports)

* If necessary