Like most dynastic teams, the Tampa Bay Lightning weren’t used to failing in big games. As they won two straight Stanley Cups and came within a hair’s breadth of a third, the Bolts amassed a 44-18 record in the playoffs, rarely facing elimination but always answering the call when needed. But for the first time in years, Lightning met his match in the form of the Colorado Avalanche. Colorado won the Stanley Cup on Sunday night by finishing off the two-time defending champions, owning a titanic championship matchup that was hotly contested but ultimately belonged to the better team. And now that a special race has been put on hold, it’s natural to wonder if the young and talented Avalanche has just started a new one.
Colorado’s performance this postseason was dominant. The Avs finished the playoffs with a 16-4 record, a plus-1.5 goal differential per game, and an Elo rating of 1631, all of which rank in the top dozen or so among Stanley Cup winners in the modern history of the NHL:
|1968 Canadians||92.3%||1981 islanders||+2.72||1977 Canadians||1716|
|1976 Canadians||92.3||Warlocks of 1970||2.29||1978 Canadians||1711|
|1988 oilers||88.9||1985 oilers||2.28||1976 Canadians||1673|
|Warlocks of 1970||85.7||1977 Canadians||2.21||1979 Canadians||1665|
|1977 Canadians||85.7||1983 islanders||2.05||1982 islanders||1656|
|1969 Canadians||85.7||Warlocks of 1972||2.00||1989 flames||1648|
|1981 islanders||83.3||1984 oilers||2.00||Warlocks of 1972||1646|
|1985 oilers||83.3||1978 Canadians||1.93||1984 oilers||1644|
|Warlocks of 1972||80.0||1968 Canadians||1.77||1973 Canadians||1642|
|1978 Canadians||80.0||1982 islanders||1.74||1985 oilers||1639|
|1995 hell||80.0||1995 hell||1.65||1952 red wings||1637|
|Avalanche 2022||80.0||1988 oilers||1.63||Avalanche 2022||1631|
|kings 2012||80.0||Avalanche 2022||1.50||1944 Canadians||1629|
|1997 red wings||80.0||1990 oilers||1.50||1981 islanders||1628|
|1993 Canadians||80.0||1987 oilers||1.43||1983 islanders||1627|
As impressive as the Avalanche’s overall resume was, the fact that they beat Tampa Bay of all teams in the final makes this championship stand out even more. Including the Lightning in 2020 and 2021, only 17 teams in the NHL era had won two or more consecutive Cups. Of those, only nine finished their careers for the team that ultimately won the Cup for itself, and of those, only five title streaks ended in the Stanley Cup Final. Changing-of-the-guard victories like this don’t happen very often, but by the end of the series there was no question that Colorado had won their championship.
Avalanche did it with a total effort in all phases of the game. Throughout the season, we were in awe of Colorado’s scoring power, led by center Nathan MacKinnon, defenseman Cale Makar and an incredibly deep supporting cast of offensive talent. And that showed in the playoffs, with the Avalanche producing the most goals per game (4.25) by a Cup winner since 1988, and the ninth-most since 1927. They also converted a sizzling 32.8 percent of their snaps. power in the playoffs (including a 37.5 percent clip against Tampa). Meanwhile, Makar won the Conn Smythe Trophy as playoff MVP in large part because he had the fourth-most points in a postseason by a defenseman.
But Colorado also showed their defense when they needed it. After taking a 2-1 lead over Tampa Bay in the second period of Game 6, the Avalanche denied the Lightning many chances for a tie: they limited the Lightning to just four shots in the final frame, smothering them down the stretch. a scene taken from the usual Tampa script. Several of Tampa Bay’s usual offensive stars were stymied in Game 6 — Victor Hedman, Nikita Kucherov and Alex Killorn — all meaningless — and that was emblematic of the series as a whole. Even Colorado’s oft-maligned goaltender Darcy Kuemper was accurate in the clincher, stopping 22 of 23 Lightning shots on Sunday night.
This could also be just the beginning for Colorado, whose best players are mostly under 30, and whose roster was the 12th youngest in hockey during the regular season, weighted by adjusted goals above replacement. General manager Joe Sakic did a masterful job of rebuilding this team from the ground up, recruiting a ton of local talent and supplementing it with smart outside acquisitions to create a dominant hockey machine. While the Avs will have some options to take and holes to fill in free agency, much of their core will return for another shot at the Cup next season … and beyond.
Of course, Colorado still has a long way to go before joining Tampa Bay in the dynasty conversation. But the Avalanche’s Stanley Cup win on Sunday was the hardest-fought exclamation point in one of the most impressive playoff runs we’ve seen in a long time. The Lightnings were the opponent he hadn’t lost in a long time, it seemed like they might be unbeatable. But in the end, Colorado was just too good a team to deny.