The Wraparound: Kuemper or Francouz for Avalanche in Game 4?

The Wraparound: Kuemper or Francouz for Avalanche in Game 4?
Andy Cross/MediaNews Group/The Denver Post via Getty Images

The Wraparound is your look at the 2022 NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs. We’ll break down Game 4 of the 2022 Stanley Cup Final, including the all-important television information.

After a 7-0 blowout loss in Game 2, the Lightning returned the favor, clobbering the Avalanche 6-2. Can Tampa Bay even up the series, or will the Avalanche bounce back and put the repeat champions on the brink?

• Aside from GM of the Year, the league handed out the remaining 2022 NHL Awards on Tuesday. Auston Matthews locked down the Hart Trophy and Ted Lindsay to complete quite the season, Igor Shesterkin won the Vezina, Cale Makar notched the Norris, and Moritz Seider captured the Calder.

• Coaches continue to lock down jobs around the NHL. Adam Gretz wonders if Peter DeBoer can lead the Stars to a quick turnaround. After turning the Oilers’ 2021-22 season around quickly, Jay Woodcroft received a contract extension.

In an ideal world, every contending team would be able to identify a rock-solid goalie they can count on during the playoffs.

In the real world … well, there aren’t a lot of goalies as reliable as Andrei Vasilevskiy. Many are most impressed by Vasilevskiy’s occasionally acrobatic saves, or the way he performs after a loss. For me, it’s just how often he’s reliable, and frequently elite. Vasilevskiy’s doubled any other goalie’s workload the past three postseasons (68 playoff games; Semyon Varlamov‘s second at 34) while being a regular season workhorse (157 regular season games since 2019-20, second only to Connor Hellebuyck‘s 169).

Truly, Vasilevskiy presents the Lightning with a rare (if not literally unique) luxury of reliably elite playoff goaltending.

The Avalanche do not enjoy that luxury.

[NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs 2022 schedule, TV info]

Now, let’s make this clear: the Avalanche haven’t been outright fools when it comes to goaltending. To an extent, they should be applauded for pragmatism. While other teams burn salary cap space reaching for elite goaltending (looking at you, Florida Panthers), the Avalanche aren’t forcing it.

For the most part, that’s worked out for them — even with some bad injury luck. Yet, as Game 4 approaches on Wednesday night (8 p.m. ET), they must ponder a choice between Darcy Kuemper and Pavel Francouz.

For whatever it’s worth, Avalanche head coach Jared Bednar didn’t reveal if he’s starting Darcy Kuemper or Pavel Francouz against the Lightning in Game 4.

Unfortunately, at the moment, it at least feels like there really isn’t a “good choice.” Instead, the vibes lean closer to picking your poison.

Let’s sort through the venom, then. Pavel Francouz vs. Darcy Kuemper: who should be the Avalanche starter for Game 4 of the 2022 Stanley Cup Final?

Pros and cons of starting Darcy Kuemper for Game 4

Here’s a take: the Avalanche made a reasonable bet in trading for Kuemper during the offseason.

Personally, I’d rather give up the equivalent of a trade deadline rental for a productive goalie instead of handing term to, say, Philipp Grubauer. In the grand scheme of things, it was the right move.

And, to an extent, it worked out. During the regular season, Kuemper generated 25.12 Goals Saved Above Average, the fourth-best mark in the NHL.

Really, Kuemper probably deserves more love as a legitimate(-looking?) starting goalie. His career regular-season save percentage is a strong .918, and his 2021-22 season number was even better at .921.

Contrarians will chalk that up to the team in front of him, yet Kuemper also generated some of his career-best dragging the lowly Coyotes to semi-credibility.

[Related: Avs defying the odds with playoff goaltending]

If the Lightning turn Game 4 (and more) into low-event hockey, there’s logic to the Avalanche hoping that Darcy Kuemper can just … somehow regain his previous form. After all, if the pace is slow and grinding, wouldn’t you prefer the 6-foot-5 goalie who checks many traditional boxes?

Unfortunately, Kuemper hasn’t looked so sharp for much of these playoffs. Look at his series-by-series numbers, and it’s clear this isn’t just a blip vs. the Bolts.

None of this is meant to condemn Kuemper, especially big-picture-wise. After all, it seems like his drop-off coincided with a scary eye injury. That doesn’t mean he’s struggling because of the injury. It may also boil down to getting knocked out of his rhythm.

But, either way, Kuemper looks vulnerable.

Francouz presents more of the unknown … maybe that’s not such a bad thing?

Importantly, note that the Avalanche haven’t received great goaltending during the 2022 Stanley Cup Final, even when they’ve beaten the Lightning.

Whether it’s Francouz or Kuemper, it sure feels like the best route to victory is just to make goaltending as irrelevant as possible.

But if they need some saves, Francouz’s gathering a consensus.

So far, both Francouz and Kuemper experienced ups and downs during the playoffs. In 13 playoff appearances this season, Kuemper’s managed a save percentage of .896. Francouz, meanwhile, generated a more palatable .896 mark in seven games (four of which were starts, six ended up being wins).

Broadly, each goalie has looked shaky at times. Yet Francouz instills at least a modicum of greater confidence.

Normally, I’d roll my eyes at a coach playing coy about announcing their starting goalie. No doubt, Bednar not revealing Francouz or Kuemper for Game 4 does inspire some of that feeling.

Yet, this is a case where such “gamesmanship” makes extra sense.

In a league where goalies are increasingly cookie cutter, Kuemper – Francouz are about as different as you can get.

  • Kuemper is the prototype, size-wise, listed at 6-foot-5. Francouz must rely more on athleticism, as he’s listed at 6-feet-tall. (Note: this doesn’t mean Kuemper lacks any athleticism, mind you.)
  • Kuemper’s also typical in catching with his left hand. Unlike the vast majority of contemporary NHL goalies, Pavel Francouz catches with his right hand.

Both goalies have posted sneaky-solid stats, at least when they’ve been able to play.

Injuries forced Francouz to miss all of the 2020-21 season. Overall, the 32-year-old’s only played in 57 NHL regular season games, yet he’s produced when healthy enough to play. Francouz sports an impressive .921 career save percentage, collecting almost 20 GSAA over those 57 games.

While it’s not the same as blanking NHL shooters, Francouz also put up sparkling overseas stats, including in the KHL.

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

So … the Avalanche set themselves up with relatively strong options in Francouz and Kuemper. At least to the degree that, by not risking too many resources on goaltending, they could focus on building to other strengths.

More often than not, the Avs could likely bring a goalie match closer to a “tie” than many might realize.

Again, though, the 2022 Stanley Cup Final may continue to intensify the mismatch between Andrei Vasilevskiy against Kuemper and/or Francouz.

Personally, I’d lean toward Francouz, even if it merely gives a different look. Colorado’s most important task is to shift the focus off goalies (or at least their goalies) entirely. Tampa Bay might not give them that option, though.


Game 1 – Avalanche 4, Lightning 3 (OT)
Game 2 – Avalanche 7, Lightning 0
Game 3 – Lightning 6, Avalanche 2
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)

* – if necessary

Scroll Down For:

    Rangers sign Filip Chytil to 4-year extension

    chytil rangers
    Eric Hartline/USA TODAY Sports

    NEW YORK — The New York Rangers have signed forward Filip Chytil to a four-year contract extension worth $17.75 million, locking up another member of their core long term.

    The team announced the deal Wednesday night. Chytil will count just under $4.44 million annually against the salary cap through the 2026-27 season.

    Chytil, 23, is in the midst of a career year. He has set career highs with 22 goals, 20 assists and 42 points in 66 games for the playoff-bound Rangers.

    The Czech native is the team’s sixth-leading scorer and ranks fourth on the roster in goals. The 2017 first-round pick has 144 points in 342 NHL regular-season and playoff games. He was set to be a restricted free agent with arbitration rights this summer.

    New York already had top center Mika Zibanejad signed through 2030, No. 1 defenseman Adam Fox through 2029, veteran Chris Kreider through 2027, winger Artemi Panarin through 2026 and reigning Vezina Trophy-winning goaltender Igor Shesterkin through 2025.

    General manager Chris Drury’s next order of business is an extension for 2020 top pick Alexis Lafrenière, who is only signed through the remainder of this season and can be a restricted free agent.

    Blackhawks’ Jonathan Toews returns to ice, hints at retirement

    Eric Hartline-USA TODAY Sports
    1 Comment

    CHICAGO — Longtime Chicago Blackhawks captain Jonathan Toews returned to the ice but hinted his stellar NHL career could be winding down after 15 years.

    Toews, 34, skated with teammates prior to Chicago’s game with the Dallas Stars. It was his first time practicing with them since a game in Edmonton on Jan. 28.

    He made a statement through the team on Feb. 19 saying he would be stepping away because of the effects of Chronic Immune Response Syndrome and “long COVID.”

    In meeting with reporters, Toews stopped short of saying he hoped to play in any of last-place Chicago’s nine remaining games. His eight-year, $84 million contract is set to expire at the end of the season.

    Toews said he’s feeling stronger, but isn’t sure if he’ll be able to play again for the Blackhawks or another team.

    “Both if I’m being fully honest,” Toews said. “I feel like I’ve said it already, that I’ve gotten to the point where my health is more important.

    “When you’re young and you’re playing for a Stanley Cup and everyone’s playing through something, that means something and it’s worthwhile. But I’m at that point where it feels like more damage is being done than is a good thing.”

    Toews, the Blackhawks’ first-round draft pick (third overall) in 2006, joined the team in 2007 and was a pillar of Stanley Cup championship clubs in 2010, 2013 and 2015.

    At the peak of his career, he was one of the NHL’s top two-way centers, winning the Selke Trophy as the league’s top defensive forward in 2013.

    In 1,060 regular-season games, Toews has 371 goals and 509 assists. In 139 playoff games, he’s posted 45 goals and 74 assists, and he won the Conn Smythe Trophy as playoff MVP in 2010.

    Toews missed the entire 2020-21 season with Chronic Immune Response System, which caused debilitating inflammation and fatigue.

    He appeared in 71 games in 2021-22, then started this season with renewed energy before slowing and eventually shutting himself down.

    Entering this season, it looked as if Chicago might deal him, as it did fellow star Patrick Kane, before the March trade deadline. But Kane went to the New York Rangers and Toews to injured reserve.

    Toews believed he was progressing before a relapse in January left him so sore and tired that he could barely “put on my skates or roll out of bed to come to the rink.”

    Toews said his progress over the past month has been “pretty encouraging” and he’s delighted to be back among his teammates. He has no timetable beyond that.

    “We’re just going to go day by day here,” Chicago coach Luke Richardson said. He deserves anything he wants to try to achieve here.”

    Richardson hoped Toews “can take that next step later in the week and hopefully (he) gives us the green light to go in a game.”

    But Toews emphasized his long-term health and ability to lead a “normal life” is most important. He wants to go out on a positive note and not hit the ice for a game playing through excessive pain and dysfunction.

    “It’s definitely on my mind that this could be my last few weeks here as a Blackhawk in Chicago,” Toews said. “It’s definitely very important for me to go out there and enjoy the game and just kind of soak it in and just really appreciate everything I’ve been able to be part of here in Chicago.”

    Budding Wild star Matt Boldy more willing to shoot, and it shows

    Nick Wosika-USA TODAY Sports
    1 Comment

    ST. PAUL, Minn. — Matt Boldy was unable to resist a smile in the aftermath of his second hat trick in five games for the Minnesota Wild, a young right wing and reluctant star trying to make sense of a remarkable hot streak.

    Does the puck feel as if it’s automatically going in the net these days each time he shoots?

    “Yeah, it does,” Boldy said in the locker room after leading the first-place Wild to a 5-1 win over Seattle. “My linemates are playing great. Hopefully you guys are giving them a lot of credit. You look at some of those goals – just putting it on a tee for me.”

    This non-attention-seeker has found himself squarely in the NHL spotlight. Boldy has 11 goals in nine games since Wild superstar Kirill Kaprizov was sidelined with a lower-body injury to raise his goal total to 28, in part because he’s been more willing to shoot. With vision and stickhandling as strengths and the humility of being a second-year player, it’s easy to be in a pass-first mindset.

    “Everybody kind of took turns talking to him. But it’s not that he didn’t want to. A lot of times a situation like that where a guy’s got that skillset, it’s a real unselfish quality, right?” coach Dean Evason said. “But I think he gets now that he helps the team a lot when he scores goals.”

    The Wild were confident enough in Boldy’s scoring ability to commit a seven-year, $49 million contract extension to him earlier this winter, after all.

    “I think I’ve always had that mentality, but sometimes you just get into spots and it comes off your stick good,” Boldy said. “When things are going well, the puck goes in the net.”’

    The Wild are 6-1-2 without Kaprizov. Boldy is a big reason why.

    “You go through the slumps, you learn what you need to do to score. I think he’s found a good way to be in the right spot and shoot the puck when he had a good opportunity,” center Joel Eriksson Ek said.

    The Wild have only won one division title in 22 years, the five-team Northwest Division in 2007-08. They’re leading the eight-team Central Division with eight games to go, with both Colorado and Dallas too close for comfort. They haven’t won a playoff series since 2015.

    With Kaprizov due back before the postseason and Boldy on this heater, a Wild team that ranks just 23rd in the league in goals per game (2.93) ought to have a better chance to advance. Eriksson Ek and Marcus Johansson have been ideal linemates for the Boston College product and Massachusetts native.

    Since the Wild entered the league in the 2000-01 season, only five NHL players have had more hat tricks at age 21 or younger than Boldy with three: Patrik Laine (eight), Marian Gaborik (five), Steven Stamkos (five), Alex DeBrincat (four) and Connor McDavid (four). Boldy turns 22 next week, so there’s still time for one or two more.

    “He’s big. He controls the puck a lot. He’s got a good shot, good release. He’s smart. He switches it up. He’s got good moves on breakaways. He’s a total player,” goalie Marc-Andre Fleury said. ”Fun to watch him grow this year.”

    Pezzetta scores shootout winner; Canadiens beat Sabres 4-3

    canadiens sabres
    Timothy T. Ludwig/USA TODAY Sports

    BUFFALO, N.Y. ⁠— Brendan Gallagher and the Montreal Canadiens rallied back to avoid playoff elimination with less than three weeks left in their season. The Buffalo Sabres, meanwhile, are running out of chances to stay in the Eastern Conference wild-card hunt.

    Gallagher forced overtime by scoring his 200th career goal, and Michael Pezzetta scored the decisive shootout goal in a 4-3 win over the Sabres on Monday night.

    “It’s one of those things I think we earned that chance. We weren’t fantastic but we did enough on the road tonight to get a win,” Gallagher said. “Smiles all around.”

    The Canadiens could laugh, especially after Pezzetta celebrated his goal by putting his stick between his legs and riding it like a wooden horse — much like former NHL tough guy Dave “Tiger” Williams did during his 14-year NHL career spanning the 1970s and 80s.

    “I’m not sure we’ll see that again. One of a kind,” said Gallagher. “I’d be worried about falling over.”

    Pezzetta scored by driving in from the right circle to beat Eric Comrie inside the far post. Buffalo’s Jack Quinn scored in the fourth shootout round, but was matched by Montreal’s Jesse Ylonen, whose shot from in tight managed to trickle in through Comrie.

    Jordan Harris and Alex Belzile also scored for Montreal, and Jake Allen stopped 30 shots through overtime, while allowing one goal on six shootout attempts.

    Montreal would have been eliminated from playoff contention for a second straight season – and two years removed from reaching the Stanley Cup Final – with any type of loss.

    The Sabres squandered a 3-2 third-period lead to drop to 3-6-3 in their past 12. Buffalo also blew a chance to move to within four points of idle Pittsburgh, which holds the eighth and final playoff spot.

    “Just a little hesitation,” forward JJ Peterka said of the Sabres third-period lapse. “We didn’t play with much energy and we didn’t play that aggressive as we played the two periods before. I think that was the difference.”

    Buffalo’s Lukas Rousek scored a goal and added an assist while filling in for leading scorer Tage Thompson, who did not play due to an upper body injury. Peterka and defenseman Riley Stillman also scored, and Comrie stopped 38 shots through overtime, and allowed two goals on six shootout attempts.

    Montreal blew two one-goal leads to fall behind 3-2 on Stillman’s goal at the 8:31 mark of the second period.

    Gallagher scored on the fly by using Sabres defenseman Rasmus Dahlin as a screen to snap in a shot inside the far left post. With the goal, Gallagher tied Bobby Rousseau for 24th on the Canadiens career scoring list.

    “I liked the way we corrected ourselves, it’s a sign of maturity, in the way we stayed on task,” Canadiens coach Martin St. Louis said, in recalling how the Canadiens recently unraveled in an 8-4 loss two weeks ago to Colorado, which plays a similar up-tempo style as Buffalo.


    The Sabres hosted their third Pride Night, with Russian D Ilya Lyubushkin electing not to participate in warmups by citing an anti-gay Kremlin law and fears of retribution at home in Moscow, where he has family and visits in the offseason. The remainder of the team wore dark blue jerseys with the Sabres logo on the front encircled by a rainbow-colored outline.

    During the first intermission, the Sabres broadcast a video in which GM Kevyn Adams said: “This is about recognizing someone’s humanity and true identity. We know there are people out there struggling with who they are, and we want them to know that they have an ally in the Buffalo Sabres.”


    Canadiens: At the Philadelphia Flyers on Tuesday night.

    Sabres: Host the New York Rangers on Friday night.