NHL Power Rankings: Top American-born players right now

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In this week’s edition of the NHL Power Rankings we are taking advantage of the fourth of July holiday to look at the top American-born players in the NHL right now.

Key words: Right now. As in, today. As of this moment.

We are not looking at the best American-born players of all time, or the best active American-born players that have had the best career.

We are looking at the best players at the conclusion of the 2021-22 season. Look at it this way: If you were building a team right now and had to win the Stanley Cup this upcoming season, who would you pick first. Approach it with that mindset.

There has arguably never been more American-born talent in the NHL than there is right now, from established superstars, major award winners, and rising stars.

Who all makes the cut?

To this week’s NHL Power Rankings!

1. Auston Matthews, Toronto Maple Leafs. The current league MVP and the best goal-scorer in the world at this moment, regardless of country. He scored 60 goals this past season (in only 73 games) and over the past three years has averaged a 62-goal pace per 82 games. Those are absurd numbers.

2. Adam Fox, New York Rangers. Fox is already one of the best defenseman in the NHL. He won the Norris Trophy a year ago and might have actually been even better this season. The scary thing: His best days might still be ahead of him. Fox and starting goalie Igor Shesterkin are the foundation of the Rangers’ future.

3. Matthew Tkachuk, Calgary Flames. Tkachuk is the total package as a player. He scores, he drives possession, he is a good all-around player, and he is also a complete pest to play against.

4. Charlie McAvoy, Boston Bruins. McAvoy might not score like some of the other top defenders in the league (Cale Makar, Fox, Roman Josi) but he can still contribute quite a bit offensively and he is a sensational defensive player. One of the best all-around defenders in the league.

5. Johnny Gaudreau, Calgary Flames. Not sure he has another 115-point season in him, but even if he does not match that level again Gaudreau is still one of the best offensive players and playmakers in the league. He and Tkachuk together are especially dominant.

6. Jake Guentzel, Pittsburgh Penguins. Guentzel is one of the best goal scorers in the league and can be a better defensive player than he gets credit for being. Yes, he plays next to Sidney Crosby. But a lot of talented players have skated next to Crosby in Pittsburgh over the years and never produced like this. Or anything close to it.

7. Kyle Connor, Winnipeg Jets. Connor has developed into a top-tier finisher and made a run at 50 goals this season. He might do it again this season. Maybe he actually hits the 50-goal mark. He still needs to be better defensively. A lot better, actually. But that goal scoring….

8. Patrick Kane, Chicago Blackhawks. If we are talking career or all-time American-born players he would be higher. He is still a top scorer, especially on the power play. But he has almost no defensive impact to speak of and it is getting worse as he gets older. As we sit right now, there is simply a younger crop of American-born players that have jumped ahead of him at his current state.

9. Jason Robertson, Dallas Stars. When we do this ranking again after next season or the season after, Robertson might be in the top-five. Or maybe the top-three. He is going to be a superstar.

[Related: Jason Robertson is engine that drives Stars]

10. Alex DeBrincat, Chicago Blackhawks. He is one of the best finishers in the NHL and might have a 50-goal season on the horizon. The question is which team will he be scoring those goals for?

11. Jack Eichel, Vegas Golden Knights. You might think this is too low. Maybe it is. But we have not seen a lot of Eichel over the past two years due to injury, and when he has been on the ice he has not been quite as dominant as he was early in his career — probably because he was not totally healthy. If he can get back to 100 percent he is still a top-tier player. But we have to actually see him be that player again. Is that unfair?

12. J.T. Miller, Vancouver Canucks. Miller was always a very good player early in his career with New York and Tampa Bay, but his play has gone to an entirely new level in Vancouver. Will he be a 99-point player again? I wouldn’t bet on it, but he will still be an outstanding player.

[Related: NHL Power Rankings: Offseason trade candidates]

13. Jaccob Slavin, Carolina Hurricanes. He will not score a ton of goals, but he has offensive ability and is an elite defensive player.

14. Connor Hellebuyck, Winnipeg Jets. He plays a ton behind what has been, mostly, a lousy defensive team. He does not get much help and is asked to do more than almost any other goalie in the league and still posts strong individual numbers.

15. Chris Kreider, New York Rangers. His 2021-22 season was unlike anything we have ever seen from him in his career. Not sure how much confidence I have in him repeating that. But even if he goes back to being a 30-goal player with strong two-way ability he is still a hell of a player.

16. Max Pacioretty, Vegas Golden Knights. Injuries have been a constant thorn for him over the years, and he is getting older, but his production and overall play is still fantastic when he is healthy.

17. John Carlson, Washington Capitals. He can still get it done on the power play and help drive offense, but his defensive play is starting to slow down

18. Quinn Hughes, Vancouver Canucks. An elite scorer from the blue line, and he seemed to clean up at least some of his defensive deficiencies this past season.

19. Jack Hughes, New Jersey Devils. Like Robertson, another player that has the potential to make a dramatic rise over the next year. He was going to have a breakout year in 2021-22 had it not been for an injury that robbed him of half of his season.

20. Brady Tkachuk, Ottawa Senators. He has no problem generating shots and driving possession, and with a little luck could throw a 40-plus goal season at you in the very near future.

21. Joe Pavelski, Dallas Stars. He just keeps producing at a top level even into his late 30s. I do fear that we might see him start to slow down this season. Then again, I said that a year ago as well.

22. Bryan Rust, Pittsburgh Penguins. Outstanding all-around player and underrated part of the Penguins roster. Can play 5-on-5, penalty kill, and power play all extremely well.

[Related: Penguins extend Bryan Rust contract]

23. Trevor Zegras, Anaheim Ducks. Is this too low? It feels too low. But we have only seen him for one year (but what a year!) so there is still some mystery there. Like Robertson and Jack Hughes, I feel like in another year he is in the top-10 of this list.

24. Brock Boeser, Vancouver Canucks. If he stays healthy and gets to play a full season he is probably going to score you 30 goals. Maybe not a superstar, or even an all-star, but a very good player.

25. Clayton Keller, Arizona Coyotes. A top line scorer that has not let playing on a bad team impact his possession numbers or goals for/against numbers.

26. Zach Werenski, Columbus Blue Jackets. His contract raised eyebrows when it was signed a year ago, but he is a really good player that kind of gets lost a little bit on a struggling team.

27. Dylan Larkin, Detroit Red Wings. His production is a bit inconsistent from year to year, but when he is at his best he is a 30-goal guy with gamebreaking speed.

28. Jakob Chychrun, Arizona Coyotes. A highly sought after player in the trade market that would be a strong top-pairing player on any team.

29. Brock Nelson, New York Islanders. Far from a superstar, but a very productive player on a team that is not known for its offense. Pop quiz: without looking it up, how many goals did he score this past season? Would have guessed 37? Because he scored 37 goals.

30. Torey Krug, St. Louis Blues. Not sure he has made the overall impact the Blues wanted when they signed him in free agency, but he is still a pretty important part of their blue line both offensively and defensively.

Examining the Penguins’ Evgeni Malkin and Kris Letang situation

Evgeni Malkin Kris Letang
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Ron Hextall has only been on the job in Pittsburgh for a little more than a year-and-a-half and he is already facing one of the biggest offseasons in franchise history.

Not only are the Penguins coming off a fourth consecutive First Round exit, this time losing a 3-1 series lead to the New York Rangers, but two of the biggest players in franchise history — center Evgeni Malkin and defenseman Kris Letang — are just weeks away from potentially reaching unrestricted free agency where they could end up playing for new teams.

These are not just run of the mill players, or even long-time players. They are franchise icons. Malkin and Letang have been two of the top-three players for the franchise’s greatest run of sustained success, resulting in five Conference Finals appearances, four Stanley Cup Final appearances, and three championships, all while being among the best in the world at their respective positions.

They are core players and Hall of Famers.

[Related: Nichushkin, Palat, Kadri among players whose stock rose this postseason]

For the longest time it seemed like an easy call that they would finish their careers in Pittsburgh alongside the third member of that core, center and team captain Sidney Crosby. That no longer seems to be a given as free agency looms around the corner and no new contracts have been signed for Malkin and Letang. The Penguins keep saying all of the right things about wanting to keep both, but it is ultimately going to come down to price, term, and how much faith Hextall, Brian Burke, and the rest of the franchise have in them continuing to be top players for at least the next few years.

On one hand, they are going to be 36 (Malkin) and 35 (Letang) when the 2022-23 season begins in October, and that would only be year one of long-term contracts. They are both still excellent players right now, but father time will forever remain undefeated and there are not many players in their late 30s that remain top-tier players. Long-term deals could be problematic a couple of years down the line.

There is also reality that, for all of their regular season success and continued appearances in the playoffs, that they have lost five consecutive series and not been out of the First Round in four years. When teams do not win, teams make changes. There is an argument to be made that this would be a good time for the Penguins to hit a reset button, let them walk, and use their more than $24 million in leftover salary cap space to add a handful of younger players.

[Related: NHL Power Rankings: Top performances from 2022 Stanley Cup Playoffs]

That option actually sounds somewhat intriguing in theory. 

But you have to be able to find good players, that you can afford, that want to play for you, and will ultimately provide more value than what Malkin and Letang still can both this season and in the future.

That is easier said than done because these two are almost certainly the best free agent options at their positions.

That is absolutely the case for Letang. So let’s start with him. If the Penguins were to prioritize either player, it should be Letang because he is the most difficult to replace and still might be the best long-term option in terms of his ability to maintain his current level of play. He is coming off one of the best seasons of his career, is fanatical about his health and staying in shape, and the free agent defense market is a complete wasteland of talent after him and John Klingberg.

Klingberg is a great offensive player, but he is also the player that Letang’s harshest critics think Letang is (all offense, bad defense). For the cost it would take to get him (if you could get him) you might as well just keep the better player you already have. Beyond that, the free agency options are brutal.

[Related: Top potential unrestricted free agents]

Jakob Chychrun and Matt Dumba could be trade options, and for as intriguing as somebody like Chychrun might be given his age, talent, and cheap contract, that takes assets to give up in a trade. Not only do the Penguins lack tradable assets, they have a general manager that is notoriously reluctant to make those sorts of moves.

If they are unable to re-sign Malkin, the potential free agency options start with players like Nazem Kadri and Vincent Trocheck.

Kadri is coming off of a career year in Colorado, but he is also going to be 33 at the start of his contract. For as good as he was this season, his best days might still be in the rear view mirror and there is no guarantee he duplicates that production in a different situation. Trocheck is younger and a good two-way player, but his offense took a bit of a fall this season. There is a world of difference between a superstar’s (Malkin) decline and a normal second-line center’s (Trocheck) decline. One is starting from a significantly higher point.

J.T. Miller is again rumored to be available, but there is again the question of what you have to give up as well as the fact he only has one year remaining on his deal.

Malkin has had his health issues, and he is not the same player at 5-on-5 that he has been at his peak, but he can still score, and he can still make a major impact on the power play. And that not only still matters, he can do both things better than any reasonable replacement the Penguins could find this offseason.

[Related: Offseason trade targets]

Whether the Penguins keep Malkin or Letang or let them walk, the long-term future three or four years down the line is bleak.

There is no move this offseason (or next offseason) that is going to change that. They have been at the top for 16 years with three superstars leading the way, and those superstars are racing toward the end of their careers. Eventually your run at the top ends.

In the immediate short-term, this is still a playoff team. It is a playoff team by a comfortable margin. There was a 20-point gap this past season between them and the first non-playoff team in the Eastern Conference. Yes, they lost again. Yes, they have some flaws. And yes, there is going to come a point in the next few years where they will have to legitimately tear it all down to the foundation and seriously rebuild for the first time in 20 years.

But they are not at that point yet. As long as you can still make the playoffs (and they can) there is no reason to stop doing so. Letting your good players walk over a couple of million and concern of what they might look like in two or three years and bringing in lesser players is not going to make the short-term or long-term situation any better.

In the short-term, Malkin and Letang are the best options available to them this offseason and I am not sure there is much debate to that given the available options.

Their production is not going to fall off of a cliff in one year, and maybe not in the next two years and that should allow the Penguins to continue to be a playoff team over that time. In which case, maybe they get better goaltending (or healthy goaltending) in a series. Maybe things fall their way in a series or two and they scrape together one more run.

Or maybe things remain status quo and they lose again. Also a real possibility.

But at least you have still given yourself a chance and to still a competitive team around Crosby as he finishes his career. And why wouldn’t you want to do that? You still have elite players and a team that is capable of making the playoffs. Take advantage of it while you can.

MacKinnon shines in clinching win, helps Avs win Stanley Cup

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TAMPA, Fla. (AP) — Andrew Cogliano shouted at Nathan MacKinnon in the midst of the Colorado Avalanche’s Stanley Cup celebration.

“87!” he bellowed.

It was a reference to the final two numbers of MacKinnon’s hotel room, which Colorado’s star forward thought was a great omen when he checked in ahead of Sunday night’s Game 6 in Tampa. Sidney Crosby, like MacKinnon a native of Cole Harbour, Nova Scotia, is known for being No. 87.

Now MacKinnon is a Stanley Cup champion, just like Crosby.

“We just felt like it was fate,” MacKinnon said. “We just knew we were going to win when I got that room number.”

Fate didn’t help MacKinnon sneak a perfect shot past 2021 playoff MVP Andrei Vasilevskiy for Colorado’s first goal or help him set up Artturi Lehkonen for the second. And fate didn’t make him slide his body in front of shots to keep them from getting to the net or take a big hit from Tampa Bay Lightning captain Steven Stamkos that knocked him to the ice.

No, it was skill and sheer determination for a player seeking a championship that had eluded him for several years amid playoff disappointments. He was at his best in the Cup-clinching 2-1 victory Sunday night. After a relatively quiet performance in the series until that point, MacKinnon picked the perfect time to be a difference-maker and drove the bus for the Avalanche.

General manager Joe Sakic, who drafted MacKinnon with the first pick in 2013, said this means everything to his first-line center.

“He’s one of the best players in the world, and he wanted this more than anyone, and you can tell,” Sakic said. “He’s open about it how much he wants to win, and I was really proud for him. He’s been tremendous right from when he started as a rookie. He’s gotten better and better every year. A dynamic player, and you saw it today. He checked as hard as when he had the puck.”

MacKinnon at times played like a man possessed during this run, leading the Avalanche with 13 goals, tied for the playoff lead.

“The maturity of his game over the last couple of seasons and in going through what we went through in the playoffs last year has kind of driven him to a different point this year,” coach Jared Bednar said. “He has a better understanding and a growing understanding of everything that’s happening around him and that other guys play an important role in our team’s success and it doesn’t have to always just come back on him.”

MacKinnon blazed and bulldozed through and dangled around plenty of opponents to win his first championship, adding a goal in the title-clinching win.

“Nate’s like a bull in a china shop,” said Lightning coach Jon Cooper, whose team came two victories away from the NHL’s first three-peat since in the early 1980s. “He plays the power game. He’s kind of got that double-edged sword because he’s really fast and he’s really strong, so it’s hard to neutralize him when you really let him go.”

The Avalanche unleashed MacKinnon on Nashville, St. Louis and Edmonton before that — sweeping the Predators in the first round and the Oilers in the Western Conference final sandwiched around beating the rival Blues in six. And then came the Lightning, who were vanquished in a terrific series that saw four one-goal games (two won by Colorado in overtime) and a blowout win for each team.

At the end, Colorado had the Cup and MacKinnon this time didn’t have to answer questions about what went wrong or whether he’d need to change his approach to win in the playoffs.

Instead of doing that, MacKinnon ratcheted up his game. Even before he scored his first goal of the final, he danced around defenders with moves more reminiscent of video game hockey than real life.

Facing noted Tampa Bay shutdown center Anthony Cirelli in the final, MacKinnon was more than up to the challenge.

“He embraces some of those matchups,” Bednar said. “Nate, he’s not afraid or intimidated to go against anybody.”

As a result, MacKinnon now trails Crosby by two Stanley Cup titles, giving the 26-year-old even more to shoot for beyond this championship.

“It’s crazy,” MacKinnon said. “Can’t wait to hug my family. It’s hard to describe. I didn’t really know what it would be like to actually win it, just seeing all these warriors battle, it just feels unbelievable.”

Blizzard of brilliance: How Colorado Avalanche were built

It’s settled: the Tampa Bay Lightning will face the Colorado Avalanche in the 2022 Stanley Cup Final. So, how did each team get here? Let’s look at how each Stanley Cup finalist was built, starting with the West’s top team, the Avalanche.

If the NHL is a “copycat league,” then rival general managers probably want to know how the Avalanche built such a juggernaut of a team. Is there a blueprint that could be snatched?

Maybe you can swipe some overarching principles. Unfortunately, with the Avalanche (and Lightning), there isn’t really a “gimmick.” Generally speaking, the Avalanche are exploiting a blizzard of brilliant moves — and, sure, at least a flurry of luck.

Let’s break down how the Avalanche built a juggernaut team that kicked down the door to a Stanley Cup Final after knocking on it for years.

Like other powerhouse teams, Avalanche were bad enough to stock up on high draft picks

Yes, the NHL features a select few contenders built in unusual ways. The Blues and Wild have been competitive without landing many top-five first-rounders. The Golden Knights struck gold in ways that approach the zany.

Generally speaking, though, contenders stock up on “blue chip” prospects in the draft. The Penguins did so with Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin. Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews powered the Blackhawks. Alex Ovechkin himself announced the Capitals’ pick of Nicklas Backstrom.

All of those teams made smart moves to supplement that good fortune, but to an extent, it’s about being at the right place, at the right time.

[Stunning Numbers from the 2022 Stanley Cup Playoffs]

With the Avalanche, that meant losing … a lot.

From 2010-11 to 2016-17, the Avalanche missed the playoffs in six of seven seasons. Their lone postseason appearance rode the back of a fluke Patrick Roy run that ended in the First Round.

Now, not every first-rounder from that era worked out.

Concussions derailed the career of Joey Hishon (17th overall in 2010). Connor Bleackley (23rd, 2014) hasn’t played an NHL game. The Avalanche traded Tyson Jost (10th in 2016) for depth forward Nico Sturm around deadline time.

[Looking at Avalanche stars beyond Makar and MacKinnon]

Yet, the Avalanche were bad enough long enough to knock a few way out of the park.

Again, there’s some luck involved here. Things have to fall nicely for you to get the first pick in a draft with a superstar like Nathan MacKinnon available.

But, here’s a thought for fans, and maybe also the Philadelphia Flyers trying to throw Ron Hextall under the bus. There’s no guarantee that a different team would give Cale Makar the freedom he needs to be, basically, the defenseman of the future. More than a few NHL head coaches would fixate on the natural risks that come with “roving,” missing the big picture of the good massively outweighing the bad.

So, give the Avalanche credit with developing stars, not just drafting them. Sure, there’s a heavy element of luck. To get to another level, you have to “make your own luck,” too.

Acing trades essentially since turning lemons into lemonade with Matt Duchene

Truly, the Matt Duchene trade (and Patrick Roy’s bizarre exodus) marked a true turning point for the Colorado Avalanche.

This was a situation people were mocking enough to score Matt Duchene’s glum faces to the memorable lyrics “Hello darkness, my old friend …”

With their backs against the wall, the Avalanche pulled off a brilliant Matt Duchene trade. Honestly, from that point, other GMs probably should have just ignored all incoming calls from Joe Sakic.

[For a deep dive on a remarkable run of trades, check out this breakdown from PHT’s Adam Gretz.]

In short:

  • The Duchene trade netted the Avalanche a package highlighted by Samuel Girard, and the pick they used to land Bowen Byram.
  • Exploiting a cap-strapped Islanders team, the Avs traded for Devon Toews for pennies on the dollar. Toews doesn’t generate the highlight-reel hype of Cale Makar, but he’s absolutely a big-time blueliner.
  • Sensing that the Maple Leafs kinda had to trade Nazem Kadri after consecutive playoff suspensions, the Avalanche pounced. They sold high on Tyson Barrie, and Kadri’s been a revelation.
  • Sprinkle in plenty of other smart and solid trades, including value-driven finds in Artturi Lehkonen.

Impressive patience sometimes means not buying high or selling low

Sometimes, it’s also about the trade or signing you don’t make.

  • The Avalanche could’ve overreacted to another Nazem Kadri playoff suspension. Instead, cooler heads prevailed, and he’s delivered a career-best masterpiece of a season.
  • Maybe the Avalanche would’ve paid a first-rounder to trade for Claude Giroux if he wasn’t so Florida-focused. They didn’t, though, and my end up glad they haven’t chased too many splashy rentals.
  • Sure, it cost quite a bit to trade for Darcy Kuemper. Yet, credit the Avalanche for not boxing themselves into a corner, goaltending-wise. There are only a few goalies anywhere near Andrei Vasilevskiy, and you can tie yourself in knots trying to chase false hope. If nothing else, the Avs have remained flexible regarding goalies. (Hot take: Kraken probably wish Philipp Grubauer was still with Colorado.)

Speaking of flexibility, the Avalanche aren’t particularly heavy on no-trade or no-movement clauses. It all speaks to a franchise that is cool, calm, and collected while others are prone to overreactions.

Fancy stats, free agents, and an underrated coach

Early in Joe Sakic’s run, the Avalanche were banking on Patrick Roy’s system, one that almost seemed to spit in the face of “analytics.” Contrary to Pierre McGuire’s belief, the Avalanche eventually made a heavy emphasis on analytics, “fancy stats,” or whatever you’d like to call a focus on information beyond one’s gut.

The team’s analytics department includes director Arik Parnass, an early pioneer of sorts, as well as Dawson “DTM About Heart” Sprigings.

How much did that staff figure into analytics-leaning moves, such as trading for Devon Toews? That’s a matter of speculation. Credit whomever you want, but this overall approach has paid off handsomely for the Avs.

[Back in 2018, Sean Leahy interviewed Avalanche coach Jared Bednar]

Again, the sheer volume of competent choices really separates the Avalanche.

After a bumpy start, Jared Bednar now ranks among the NHL’s most underrated coaches. While he’s been blessed with incredible talent, Bednar’s shown skill in navigating annual injury headaches.

Generally, the Avalanche have relied as much on free agents as they have built on drafting and trades. That said, they’ve found gems here and there.

One free-agent highlight was the low-risk, high-reward signing of Valeri Nichushkin. Chances are, even a savvy front office like Colorado’s probably didn’t expect the supposed Stars bust to be this much of a find. Again, though, sometimes you “make your own luck.”

More Goals Above Replacement than MacKinnon and Landeskog this season. Impressive. (Via Evolving Hockey)

In building this team, the Avalanche consistently made smart moves — selling high, and buying low. Whatever role analytics, “the eye test,” and other factors played, the bottom line is that other franchises face a tall task in keeping up with the Avalanche.

Both on the ice and off the ice.

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

Lightning overcome Rangers to reach third Stanley Cup Final in a row

The Tampa Bay Lighting’s three-peat attempt has survived all the way to the 2022 Stanley Cup Final. After a hard-fought series with the Rangers, the Lightning face a well-rested Avalanche team in the sort of best-on-best matchup we rarely see in the NHL playoffs.

To get there, the Lightning needed to overcome the Rangers (most of all, Igor Shesterkin) in a tough Game 6. While they dominated puck possession, the Lightning narrowly beat the Rangers 2-1 in Game 6 to win the series 4-2.

With this victory, the Lightning have won 11 consecutive playoff series, the third-best stretch in NHL history. The Avalanche may just present the biggest challenge of these past 12 series, too. The 2022 Stanley Cup Final begins on Wednesday, with Game 1 in Colorado.

2022 Stanley Cup Final schedule

Wednesday, June 15: Lightning at Avalanche, 8 p.m. ET, ABC, ESPN+, SN, CBC, TVA Sports
Saturday, June 18: Lightning at Avalanche, 8 p.m. ET, ABC, ESPN+, SN, CBC, TVA Sports
Monday, June 20: Avalanche at Lightning, 8 p.m. ET, ABC, ESPN+, SN, CBC, TVA Sports
Wednesday, June 22: Avalanche at Lightning, 8 p.m. ET, ABC, ESPN+, SN, CBC, TVA Sports
*Friday, June 24: Lightning at Avalanche, 8 p.m. ET, ABC, ESPN+, SN, CBC, TVA Sports
*Sunday, June 26: Avalanche at Lightning, 8 p.m. ET, ABC, ESPN+, SN, CBC, TVA Sports
*Tuesday, June 28: Lightning at Avalanche, 8 p.m. ET, ABC, ESPN+, SN, CBC, TVA Sports

* if necessary

Stamkos makes the difference in a frantic finish

Steven Stamkos scored two huge goals, ones that felt more and more precious as Shesterkin put on a show.

Scroll for the first one, but here’s the second tally that survived a video review:

As that caption notes, the Rangers had just enjoyed an all-too-rare burst of hope against the Lightning in Game 6. Frank Vatrano pounced on a loose puck from a faceoff to make it 1-1 for a very short time.

Again, it didn’t take long for Stamkos to restore the lead.

Rangers rely on Shesterkin to stay in Game 6 against the Lightning; Cirelli shines

For much of these playoffs, Anthony Cirelli has been an unsung hero for the Tampa Bay Lightning. Cirelli and his linemates (Brandon Hagel and Alex Killorn) have made life miserable for top Rangers scorers such as Mika Zibanejad and Artemi Panarin. (Gerard Gallant at least tried to wiggle out of that matchup a bit in Game 6 by temporarily splitting Zibanejad and Panarin; that might have done more harm than good.)

 

Cirelli’s value was tougher to miss in Game 6, as Cirelli created a ton of chances. Unfortunately for Cirelli, Igor Shesterkin was also on the top of his game.

… Although you could argue that Shesterkin shouldn’t have been beaten by this Steven Stamkos 1-0 goal:

Against a lesser goalie, one can only guess how many points Cirelli and his linemates might have ended up with. Instead, they finished with a goose egg.

Through the first 40 minutes, the Lightning dominated Game 6, but the Rangers entered the third period down just 1-0 largely thanks to Shesterkin.

[More perspective on how much the Rangers have asked of Shesterkin.]

During the first two periods, the Lightning dominated high-danger chances (12-3 at all strengths). As great as Andrei Vasilevskiy has been through most of the playoffs, he was mostly watching the other goalie early on.

Some controversial hits in Game 6, including another one by Jacob Trouba

There were controversial hits between the Rangers and Lightning in Game 6, and to little surprise, Jacob Trouba was involved in at least one of them. It’s puzzling, but Trouba was not penalized for interference after this off-puck check on Corey Perry.

Beyond playoff-wide hits (on Sidney Crosby, Max Domi, as two examples), Jacob Trouba has really been racking up heel heat lately. In Game 5, Trouba seemed primed to catch Ondrej Palat with a big elbow, but Palat ducked:

Perry returned during Game 6, but the bottom line is that the battle of attrition is becoming more brutal with borderline hits rarely netting penalties or suspensions.

During that same second period, Alexis Lafrenière angered Victor Hedman with a hit up high. Much like the Trouba interference on Perry, there was no penalty.

Hedman missed the rest of the middle frame, but returned as the third period began.

Overall, the Avalanche figure to be more rested than the Lightning, and perhaps healthier overall. It all points to possibly the Lightning’s biggest test yet, and could translate to a great series.

Can Colorado force Tampa Bay to pass the torch? Judging by this run, the Lightning won’t let it happen without a huge fight.

2022 NHL playoff schedule: Eastern Conference Final

NEW YORK RANGERS v. TAMPA BAY LIGHTNING (TB wins series 4-2)

Game 1 – Rangers 6, Lightning 2
Game 2 – Rangers 3, Lightning 2
Game 3 – Lightning 3, Rangers 2
Game 4 – Lightning 4, Rangers 1
Game 5 – Lightning 3, Rangers 1
Game 6 – Lightning 2, Rangers 1

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.