The Wraparound: Could Stanley Cup Final shift to Tampa Bay save Lightning?

The Wraparound: Could Stanley Cup Final shift to Tampa Bay save the Lightning?
Michael Martin/NHLI via Getty Images

The Wraparound is your look at the 2022 NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs. We’ll break down Game 3 of the 2022 Stanley Cup Final, including the all-important television information.

• Can the Lightning recover from a stunning 7-0 Game 2 blowout, or will the Avalanche push them to the brink of elimination?

• John Tortorella was officially hired as the next head coach of the Flyers on Friday

Heading into the 2022 Stanley Cup Final, it was no secret that the Avalanche possessed more team speed than the Lightning. Instead, the assumption was that the wily veterans would find ways to slow the young upstarts down.

That, uh, hasn’t happened so far.

[NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs 2022 schedule, TV info]

Understandably, the Lightning basically treat their Game 2 debacle as a “burn the tape”-type experience. Throw a few “man up” comments out there. Deflect questions about leaving Andrei Vasilevskiy out there to absorb a seven-goal shellacking.

Starting with Game 3 Monday night (8 p.m. ET), a change of scenery will be just what the doctor ordered. To an extent maybe even literally.

Really, though, do the Lightning have a chance to get back in the 2022 Stanley Cup Final against the Avalanche? Let’s consider a few reasons why the series shifting to Tampa Bay could make a difference.

First, there are the typical differences in home ice

At times, home-ice advantage can be exaggerated in the NHL. Yet, the Lightning have already leveraged that edge during their push for a Stanley Cup three-peat. Look no further than how aggressively Jon Cooper chased matchups involving Anthony Cirelli. With the luxury of the last change, top forwards couldn’t escape a player who’s been making a Selke-level defensive impact.

It’s quite possible that, with a clean slate, the last change could matter.

Of course, there’s only so much Cirelli, Vasilevskiy, or any single player can do when the Avs are creating such a locomotive pace.

That’s where things could be interesting.

With Games 3 and 4 in Tampa Bay, the Avalanche won’t enjoy the same feverish home crowd to feed off of. This is anecdotal, but there’s often the feeling of a snowball effect (Avalanche pun partially intended) for a road team. Give up a goal and then another, and a contest can get away from you fast when everyone’s screaming and/or singing pop punk at your demise.

Getting away from mile-high elevation could be godsend for Lightning against Avalanche

From a “sports science” standpoint, the most interesting — if almost intangible — factor might be what makes the Avalanche’s home-ice advantage unique (or at least unusual) in the NHL. That’s the “mile-high” elevation.

Long story short, athletes not used to mile-high altitude can tire/get winded faster. From the NBA’s Nuggets to the these Avalanche, it really only makes sense to err toward a high-tempo style. Yet, instead of merely leaning in that direction, the Avs dove in head-first.

Frighteningly, the Avalanche aren’t just challenging the Lightning with pure skating speed. Just about every facet of their game keeps the puck moving. Their defensemen brilliantly move the puck up the ice. Most of the time, that means quick and efficient breakout passing. If those opportunities aren’t there — or a Cale Makar merely sees a chance to go coast to coast — then they have the ability to skate the puck up themselves.

[Related: Avs defying the odds with playoff goaltending]

As strong as the Avalanche were on the road this season (24-14-3), the Avalanche were incredible at home, posting a 32-5-4 record.

Considering many of the key players on each side by age, and a faster pace once again favors Colorado.

  • Nathan MacKinnon is a barrel of energy at 26. The rest of the NHL must come to grips with Cale Makar merely being 23. Valeri Nichushkin, 27, has been a menace in just about every section of the ice. Andre Burakovsky, 27, has been dynamic (though he may be injured). Even seemingly slowed, 26-year-old Mikko Rantanen is another physical force. 21-year-old defenseman Bowen Byram is coming into his own, while Devon Toews (28) is as smooth as they come.

[More on Nichushkin taking a star turn during playoffs, Cup Final]

Of course, it’s not just age that factors into fresher legs vs. a drive to slow the pace. The Lightning have just played a stunning amount of hockey the past three years. Tampa Bay’s played a whopping 67 playoff games the past three seasons, while the Avalanche are tied for a distant second with 41 playoff GP.

During this run alone, the Lightning have played three more games than the Avalanche. The Avs also enjoyed that cushy rest between previous rounds, arguably worthy of the dreaded rust.

In the grand scheme of things, it’s not shocking that an already-fast Lightning team looked that much quicker than the Lightning in Colorado. That also might have exacerbated issues for Andrei Vasilveskiy.

Life could end up at least a bit easier for Vasilevskiy …

While it’s resounding how much Vasilevskiy’s accomplished at a mere age 27, even a younger goalie can wobble when you put too much on their shoulders. (Fatigue’s something he owned up to, at least earlier in his run as a No. 1.)

Could mile-high elevation have made already-challenging matters worse for Vasilevskiy early on? It’s possible. It was noted how tired Vasilevskiy looked after Artturi Lehkonen scored a PPG in Game 1:

In contemplating the rush goals and opportunities the Avalanche generated in Game 2 especially, maybe a return home can tip the scales just enough for Vasilevskiy and their structure to rebound? Maybe they can trap/slow down Colorado more effectively when they’re not gasping for air.

Among other things, the Bolts may also be able to churn out some of Jon Cooper’s fabled “adjustments.” Either way, the Lightning clearly need a lot to change if they hope to have a fighting chance in the 2022 Stanley Cup Final.

COLORADO AVALANCHE v. TAMPA BAY LIGHTNING (COL leads 2-0)

Game 1 – Avalanche 4, Lightning 3 (OT)
Game 2 – Avalanche 7, Lightning 0
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)

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