Will the 2021-22 NHL season come to an end tonight? The Colorado Avalanche hold a 3-1 series lead over the Tampa Bay Lightning thanks to Nazem Kadri‘s overtime winner Wednesday night. Colorado is looking to win its third Stanley Cup in franchise history and first since 2001 when they beat the New Jersey Devils in seven games.
The Lightning haven’t faced elimination a ton since the sweep-that-launched-a-monster series in 2019 against the Columbus Blue Jackets. But they have Andrei Vasilevskiy, and as we saw after the first two games of this series, they won’t go down without a fight.
“There is no more tomorrows now. This is it,” said Lightning head coach Jon Cooper on Friday. “There’s no more mulligans. We’ve got to pull this one out.”
Let’s take a look at what to watch for ahead of Game 5 tonight from Ball Arena in Denver.
What to watch for in Game 5 of the 2022 Stanley Cup Final
• Avalanche managing emotions: Friday night could be a memorable one for the Avalanche players and organization. Winning a Stanley cup at home is a special experience, but while they hold a 3-1 series lead they cannot start thinking about celebrating — not with the two-time defending champions still in the fight.
“It’s a big opportunity for us. It’s an exciting game, an exciting moment,” said Avalanche head coach Jared Bednar. “You always hear about controlled emotion. I want us to use our nervous energy and emotion and play with passion and play hard and stay on our toes.”
• Moving past the “too many men” controversy: The Lightning are facing a tall task: beating the Avalanche in three straight games. Colorado has not dropped three in a row, or consecutive games, for that matter, since a slide to close out the regular season when they lost six out of their final eight. The way Game 4 ended, whether you believe Nazem Kadri’s goal should have counted or not, is in the past now.
“What’s great about today is that it’s not yesterday,” said Cooper on Thursday. “And now I got some excitement for Game 5, and that’s where my mind’s turning, on how to win that. Not [anything] we can do to turn back. They missed it. It’s unfortunate, but it’s water under the bridge now. Let’s go get ready. It should be a hell of a Game 5.”
[Stanley Cup Playoffs 2022 schedule, TV info]
• Rare territory for this Lightning run: Since Tampa Bay started this Cup run in 2020, having their backs against the wall in a series has not happened that often. In fact, Game 5 will be only the fourth time over the last three postseasons where they’ve faced elimination. In 2021, they beat the New York Islanders in Game 7 to advance to the Cup Final, and then earlier in these playoffs they knocked out the Toronto Maple Leafs in the First Round with wins in Games 6 and 7.
• A dominant run by the Avs: Should Colorado end the series in Game 5 they will finish the playoffs with a 16-3 record. According to the NHL, that would make them the first team since the 1987-88 Edmonton Oilers to finish a postseason with fewer than four losses. That Wayne Gretzky-led Oilers team went 16-2 as they won a fourth title in five seasons.
Another win would also tie the NHL record for most combined victories during the regular season and playoffs.
• A return for Burakovksy?: Bednar said that forward André Burakovsky is an “option” for Game 5. He has not played since blocking a shot with his hand in Game 2. Burakovsky, who has two goals in the series, including the Game 1 overtime winner, stayed behind in Denver as the team traveled to Tampa Bay for Games 3 and 4.
In other injury news, Lightning defenseman Erik Cernak took part in Friday’s optional skate after blocking a shot in the second period of Game 4. He did not return. Also hitting the ice was Brayden Point, who has been dealing with a lower-body injury since the First Round and last played in Game 2. Cooper did not rule him out for Game 5, labeling him a game-time decision.
COLORADO AVALANCHE v. TAMPA BAY LIGHTNING (COL leads 3-1)
Game 1 – Avalanche 4, Lightning 3 (OT)
Game 2 – Avalanche 7, Lightning 0
Game 3 – Lightning 6, Avalanche 2
Game 4 – Avalanche 3, Lightning 2 (OT)
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
Sean Leahy is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter @Sean_Leahy.