Nathan MacKinnon and the Colorado Avalanche will host the Tampa Bay Lightning in Game 1 of the Stanley Cup Final at 8 p.m. EDT Wednesday on ABC. File Photo by Bill Greenblatt/UPI | License Photo
June 15 (UPI) -- The Colorado Avalanche and Tampa Bay Lightning open the 2022 Stanley Cup Final with Game 1 on Wednesday in Denver. The Avalanche, who are favored in the best-of-seven series, will attempt to deny a Lightning three-peat.
The puck drop for Game 1 is scheduled for 8 p.m. EDT at Ball Arena. The series will air on ABC.
"The challenges on the ice are pretty obvious," Avalanche coach Jared Bednar told reporters Tuesday. "We are facing the best team over the last three seasons."
The Lightning can become the first team since the New York Islanders to win three consecutive Stanley Cup titles. The Islanders won four-consecutive championships from 1980 to 1983.
The Avalanche last won the title in 2001. They earned the top seed in the Western Conference for the playoffs.
"It's crazy for me to go through this again," Lightning left wing Pat Maroon told reporters Tuesday. "I'm very fortunate and lucky to be part of this. I'm very excited for another challenge and to have the opportunity to win another one."
The Stanley Cup Final could run through the next three weeks, with June 28 slated for a potential Game 7. The first two games of the series will be held in Denver.
The Lightning will host the Avalanche in Games 3 and 4. The Avalanche would host a potential Game 5 and 7. The Lightning would host Game 6.
The Avalanche last played June 6 and enjoyed an eight-day break between games. The Lightning spent just three days between games and could start the series more in rhythm.
"At this point of the year, it's not very hard to get up for games," Avalanche right wing Mikko Rantanen told reporters Monday. "It's the Final, I think everybody will be mentally ready to play. We had a couple good practices.
"I don't think it will be a problem. It's every individual's responsibility to be ready."
The Lightning needed seven games to slip past the Toronto Maple Leafs in the first round. They trailed twice in that series, but responded with a second-round sweep of the No. 1 overall seed Florida Panthers.
They then overcame an 0-2 deficit to beat the New York Rangers in the Eastern Conference finals.
The Avalanche swept the Nashville Predators in the first round. They needed six games to beat the St. Louis Blues in the second round. They then swept the Edmonton Oilers to reach the Stanley Cup Final.
Veteran center Steven Stamkos led the Lightning with 106 points, tied for sixth among NHL skaters in the regular season. He totaled 42 goals and 64 assists.
Lightning veteran Victor Hedman totaled 85 points, third amongst defenseman. Star goaltender Andrei Vasilevskiy ranked ninth in the NHL with a 2.49 goals against average for the Lightning. The Lightning allowed the sixth-fewest goals this season.
"They are highly committed defensively," Bednar said of the Lightning. "It will be difficult to create scoring chances. We have to stay patient, resilient and hungry and in attack mode.
"On the flip side, when they create chances they finish them. They have a lot of really good shooters, talent and a dangerous power play, great goaltending and they are well coached.
"They are here for a reason. We've been building for a couple years to try and get here. We see it as a great opportunity and a great challenge."
The Avalanche led the Western Conference and ranked second in the league in points. They trailed only the Panthers with 312 goals scored.
Rantanen led the team with 92 points, including 36 goals. Center Nathan MacKinnon logged 88 points and 32 scores. They totaled 56 assists apiece. Center Nazem Kadri totaled 28 goals, 59 assists and 87 points for the Avalanche.
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The Avalanche led all playoff teams with 4.64 goals for per games played. They also logged the second-best power play percentage. The Lightning allowed the second fewest goals against for games played this postseason.
MacKinnon scored 11 goals through 14 playoff games, the second-most this postseason. Lightning right wing Nikita Kucherov logged the fourth-most points, with 23 through 17 games.
Avalanche defenseman Cale Makar ranks sixth with 22 postseason points, just ahead of MacKinnon's 18 and Rantanen's 17. Avalanche left wing Gabriel Landeskog also recorded 17 points en route to the Stanley Cup Final.
Veteran center Brayden Point, who was fifth in points for the Lightning this season, was injured in the first round. Lightning coach Jon Cooper said Tuesday that Point could return to the ice for Game 1.
Vasilevskiy's 12 wins are the most among goaltenders this postseason. He totaled a .928 save percentage in his 17 playoff games. Avalanche net minder Pavel Francouz logged a .906 save percentage and a 2.86 goals against average in six playoff games.
Fellow Avalanche goaltender Darcy Kuemper posted a .897 save percentage and 2.65 goals against average in 10 postseason starts, but hasn't played since was injured in Game 1 of the Western Conference finals. He is now healthy, but the Avalanche have yet to declare if Kuemper or Francouz will start Game 1.
Stanley Cup Final
All games are at 8 p.m. EDT on ABC
Game 1: Lightning at Avalanche
Game 2: Lightning at Avalanche
Game 3: Avalanche at Lightning
Game 4: Avalanche at Lightning
Game 5 (If necessary): Lightning at Avalanche
Game 6: (If necessary) Avalanche at Lightning
Game 7: (If necessary) Lightning at Avalanche