After another entertaining round of playoff hockey, we’re down to the final four teams. The Colorado Avalanche will take on the Edmonton Oilers for the Western Conference title. In the Eastern Conference, the reigning champion Tampa Bay Lightning will take on the New York Rangers. Which teams will be representing the Western and Eastern Conference for the 2022 Stanley Cup Finals?
(1) Colorado Avalanche vs. (2) Edmonton Oilers
Both teams in the Western Conference Finals are breaking droughts of at least a decade long from their last appearance. The Oilers are here for the first time since 2006 and the Avalanche for the first time since 2002.
The Oilers have been carried by the high scoring trio of Connor McDavid, Leon Draisaitl and Evander Kane. McDavid and Draisaitl have 26 points a piece while Kane has a team leading 12 goals through the first two rounds. Mike Smith has been all over the place in terms of the quality of his performance in net, but that hasn’t mattered thus far. The fast paced Oilers offense has been enough to mask the rest of their faults and bring them to the conference finals.
However, they’re going to have a significant challenge ahead of them with the Avalanche. They’re the only other team that scores as much as the Oilers do, with both teams tied with a 4.3 goals per game average this postseason. In addition, the Avalanche have the best power play percentage of the remaining teams. Nathan MacKinnon leads the team in points and Darcy Kuemper has been serviceable in net.
This has the makings of a similarly high-paced, offensive series like was seen in the Battle of Alberta. The Oilers were able to outscore the Flames despite Smith’s inconsistent work in round two, but it won’t work as well here. The Avalanche are more capable of keeping up with them and have the slight edge in quality of their defense and goaltending. McDavid and Draisaitl will help push this series to its limits, but the Avalanche will come out victorious.
Prediction: Avalanche in 7
(2) New York Rangers vs. (3) Tampa Bay Lightning
In one of the more surprising results of the second round, the Tampa Bay Lightning swept the best regular season team in the Florida Panthers. They’ve now had over a week of rest and time to scout out the New York Rangers in their seven game series. The Lightning are as dangerous as ever, and just shut down one of the league’s best offenses. The Panthers never scored more than one goal in any of the four games played. Andrei Vasilevskiy and the Lightning’s well-rounded core makes them a force to be reckoned with in this conference final.
Awaiting them is an extremely resilient Rangers team. Despite falling behind in both of their previous series, they fought back to win in seven. They’re guided by an elite netminder of their own with Igor Shesterkin and a myriad of scoring options. Among the more notable options are Mika Zibanejad and Adam Fox, who are third and fourth in total points this postseason respectively. It’s also noteworthy that the Rangers swept the regular season series against the Lightning.
However the playoffs are a different animal, and the Lightning know it well. Their late postseason experience combined with their week of rest should help them outpace the Rangers and take the early series lead. Shesterkin will keep the Rangers in the series as he has throughout this entire postseason. But unlike any of the other teams the Rangers have faced, the Lightning are adept at finishing when they have a series lead. This will help propel them in a relatively low scoring series to make their third straight Stanley Cup Final.
Prediction: Lightning in 6
Featured image courtesy of NHL Public Relations
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