NHL playoffs: Avalanche looking to succeed Lightning in heavyweight division

DENVER — The Colorado Avalanche has long aspired to become the Tampa Bay Lightning. Now it’s the Lightning who stand between the Avalanche and their first Stanley Cup title since 2001.

The two-time defending champions eliminated the New York Rangers in Game 6 of Saturday’s Eastern Finals, advancing to the finals for the third straight year. Lightning excellence is exactly what the Avalanche are looking for. It’s within reach now – assuming the team can dethrone the NHL heavyweight.

“To be the best, you have to beat the best. That’s how I see the game,” said Avalanche head coach Jared Bednar. It’s her. This team inspires other NHL teams. They’re in the Finals for the third year in a row. They’ve won two years in a row. It’s what every team does trying to not only get there, but to stay on top every season and be in the top rosters season after season. »

Colorado has already laid its foundations. The Avalanche are 12-2 in the playoffs so far, defeating the Predators in the first round and then the Oilers in the Western Finals. Colorado hasn’t played since winning the Clarence Campbell Trophy on June 6 and is waiting to hear who its opponent is.

It was almost poetic in a way to see Tampa Bay join them (again) in the finals. The Avalanche can go head-to-head against the team that has dominated the game for the past several years in hopes of becoming Lightning’s successor in this powerhouse role.

“They’re a good team but we’re confident in our abilities,” said Bowen Byram. We have a very good team. It’s not easy to reach the final, we’re excited. They have a very good team and we have to play our best hockey to beat them. But we look forward to this challenge. »

Bednar admitted that Colorado is yet to face a team the size of the Lightning in the playoffs. The Lightning rely on the excellence of Andrei Vasilevskiy in goal, who has maintained a .928 save percentage and a 2.27 clean sheet average in 17 games. Tampa is also an aggressive team to keep the opponent off the net. Bednar said he focused his prep on the Lightning as Tampa took a 3-2 lead in their series against the Rangers. The key for Colorado is not being intimidated by the squad in front of him.

“We have to play according to our identity. We have certain things that we look at and things that we want to achieve in the offensive zone. It has to start with our skate. They’re a team with great depth, a very committed defensive side and a dangerous attacking team. They are good in front of the net. You’re back in the finals for a reason, right? It’s a team that’s difficult to win against. We have to adapt to this challenge,” explained Bednar.

In Lightning, one of the keys is experience in series – and especially knowing how to win when it counts. Avalanche captain Gabriel Landeskog said that this is an invaluable aspect for the Lightning at this time of year.

Colorado will certainly try to weaponize its recent lull. When Tampa had nine days between the end of their second round — a win over the Panthers — and the start of their third round, there was obviously a bit of rust that helped put them down 2-0. . The Avalanche didn’t have the same issues between their first and second round matchups. Colorado doesn’t think its eight-day hiatus will be a problem.

“We don’t use excuses,” said Landeskog. We will make sure that we work hard in training, rest and are ready for the final. That’s the group we have. We are ready to do what we have to do. In the end, I think rest is a good thing. »

What matters to Colorado is the chance they have: compete and possibly win the long-awaited Stanley Cup.

“It’s exciting to play and know that we’re one of the two teams in the final. But the most difficult battle is ahead of us. It’s an exciting challenge and it will be fun to see what we can achieve as a group. I think we’ve been playing great hockey for about six weeks and we want it to continue,” concluded Landeskog.

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