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NHL - US Sports: Stanley Cup Preview

The Tampa Bay Lightning stand on the brink of a historic third consecutive Stanley Cup victory.

They would be the first team to land the 'threepeat' since the NHL introduced a salary cap for the 2005-06 season, and indeed, they would be the first to do it since the New York Islanders in 1981-83.

In their way stand a Colorado Avalanche team who have been nothing short of awesome in the postseason, dropping just two games in winning three best-of-seven series to be crowned Western Conference Champions.

The odds suggest the Avalanche will continue their crushing form. They're 4/7 to lift the Stanley Cup for the first time since 2001, while the defending champion Lightning can be backed at 31/20.

What: Tampa Bay Lightning vs. Colorado Avalanche, Stanley Cup Finals Game 1

Where: Ball  Arena, Denver

When: 01:00, Thursday 16th June, 2022

How to watch: Premier Sport or bet365's Sports Live Streaming

How did we get here?

The NHL regular season started back in October, and following that 82-game stretch there have been three rounds of best-of-seven-games knockout series to whittle the field of 32 teams down to these final two. But you wouldn't have got huge odds for these two giants to be the last ones standing.

Tampa Bay won the Cup for the last two years with virtually the same roster. And while they had to make a number of changes for this season to stay under the salary cap, among other reasons, it was clear they were still the team to beat in the Eastern Conference.

Colorado have been a fearsome regular-season side for a number of years, but failed to reproduce that form in the playoffs. This is the first time they have got past the second round of the postseason since 2010.

Can the Avalanche keep rolling?

Colorado's postseason form has been undeniably impressive and it is easy to see why they are considered strong favourites for the final.

However, dig a little deeper into the form and there are reasons to think they won't have things all their own way.

The Avs are an offence-first team, and they have reached this stage by beating up on bad defences. They scored 21 goals in a four-game sweep of a Nashville side missing their first-choice goaltender in the first round.

They dropped their only two games of the postseason against 2019 champions St Louis, but the Blues suffered a huge blow when star goalie Jordan Binnington was injured in Game three.

The Western Conference final saw them sweep an Edmonton side who, for all their offensive brilliance, have virtually no defence at all.

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Tampa have done it the hard way

The Lightning's route to the final could hardly have been more different. While Colorado have not trailed in a series yet, Tampa have come through a series of tough battles.

They faced elimination before winning the last two games in a gruelling first-round against a really strong Toronto team. The confidence that gave them was evident as they swept regular-season champions and state rivals Florida Panthers in the second round.

Poor discipline cost the Lightning as they went two games down against New York Rangers in the conference final, but they learned from that and bounced back to take the next four games in a row and reach the final for the third straight year.

How do the teams match up?

Colorado's relatively easy ride to the finals means they are the more rested side. They have played three fewer postseason games than Tampa and had five more days off since their last game.

But that could set them up for a shock in these finals.

The Avalanche probably have the stronger and deeper offence. They have four of the top nine playoff pointscorers this year - and one of those is defenceman Cale Makar - the 2/1 favourite to win the Conn Smythe trophy as playoffs MVP.

However, they have yet to face a defence anywhere near as solid as Tampa's, while Lightning goaltender Andrei Vasilevskiy is in a different league to any other netminder the Avs have faced in the postseason.

Tampa's offensive strength is more concentrated in their top two lines, but they are set for a boost with Brayden Point returning after a month off, possibly as early as Game one.

Defensively, Colorado are nothing special beyond Makar, particularly with Samuel Girard set to miss the series. First-choice goaltender Darcy Kuemper is ready to return, but missing all bar one period of the conference final is not ideal preparation.

Value lies with Tampa

At the available odds there's plenty of mileage in backing Tampa Bay to win a historic third straight Stanley Cup. However, it's likely to be a hard-fought series and even better value could be for the Lightning to win from behind at 7/2.

In their four previous Stanley Cup finals appearances, Tampa have lost the first game three times and a rested Colorado, playing in front of their own fans, are backable on the money line for Game one at 5/8.

The Lightning's staunch defence could well come out on top, though. Goaltender Vasilevskiy could quite possibly be the difference-maker, and at 17/4 the big Russian is value to lift the Conn Smyth trophy as postseason MVP for the second straight year.

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