Here we go, it’s Stanley Cup Final time. We have two teams ready to kick things off this week after two final teams were sent to the golf course. Out of the Western Conference, the Colorado Avalanche look to win their first Stanley Cup title since the 2000-01 season. From the Eastern Conference, the Tampa Bay Lightning search for their third title in a row; and specifically for Pat Maroon, his fourth in a row.
Before giving my Stanley Cup Final predictions, I’ll take a look at both the Edmonton Oilers and New York Rangers. I’ve had some good fortune with my predictions, but this was not my projected Cup Final matchup. Know what that means? That this is going to be fun. Let’s kick it off in Alberta.
Lost: Edmonton Oilers, New York Rangers Come Up Short
Oilers Depth Improved, but Falls Short
It’s a theme that has been on full display for years, let alone just this postseason: the Oilers need more from their depth players. In their Game 4 elimination, the team combined for five goals and 13 points. Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl combined for a goal and seven points; over half the team’s total production.
Their power play, which only saw more than two opportunities in Game 4, went just 2-for-11, while their penalty kill was 12-for-16. Both are areas that could’ve helped, especially in the deciding game. It’s hard to fault goaltender Mike Smith too much as the team allowed an average of 43 shots against per game (SA/GP), as he finished the series having allowed 19 goals in four games, including six goals against twice, with a .872 save percentage (SV%).
As has often been stated, the Oilers need more secondary scoring. Additionally, and with no disrespect intended towards Smith, they need goaltending. That being said, I’d probably start with figuring out the coaching situation (re-signing Jay Woodcroft and removing that “interim” title). It was a good year for the team, considering how it was going at points during the regular season. It’ll be interesting to see what moves they make in the offseason to get back to the Western Conference Final and if it’s enough to push them over the edge.
Rangers’ Improbable Run Meets Reality and Comes to a Halt
The Rangers’ near-Cinderella run has officially fallen short following their Game 6 defeat in the Eastern Conference Final. It was their first appearance since their 2014-15 defeat, also to the Lightning. Interestingly, this regular season’s .671 points percentage (PTS%) was their highest since that same season, when they had a .689 PTS%.
Mika Zibanejad and Adam Fox had great postseasons, as the former scored 10 goals and 24 points and the latter scored five goals and 23 points, both in 20 games. Artemi Panarin contributed six goals and 16 points, also in 20 games. Igor Shesterkin held a 2.59 goals-against average (GAA) and .929 SV%. However, let’s put their series loss against Tampa under the microscope.
Zibanejad scored three goals and five points in six games and Fox had five assists, but nothing in Games 4-6. Panarin had two goals and five points, but nothing in Games 5 and 6. Shesterkin’s play was inspirational though, as he faced roughly 35 SA/GP and allowed 14 goals over the six-game series with a .933 SV%. He was everything he needed to be and more.
The Rangers will have some tough decisions to make with their free agents this offseason. They likely won’t have enough cap space to bring everyone back, and the team could be losing some newly endeared faces ahead of next season. Either way, the team probably wasn’t expected to win a round, let alone make a run to the Eastern Conference Final. As such, it was a good year for these young Rangers.
Found: Stanley Cup Final Prediction
Before I get into my prediction, let’s take a look back at what the THW staff predicted ahead of the season. We did have the Lightning in the Eastern Conference Final, but the New York Islanders ended up winning the Prince of Wales Trophy. We correctly had the Avalanche coming out of the West and winning the Clarence S. Campbell Bowl, but over the Vegas Golden Knights. Ultimately, our team picked the Avalanche to hoist the mug and win it all. First, I’ll break down some stats about each team and then give my take.
- 12-2 in 14 games, two series sweeps
- 4.64 goals-for per game (GF/GP); 2.86 goals-against per game (GA/GP)
- 31.1% power play; 75.7% penalty kill
- Nathan MacKinnon has 11 goals (team-lead) and 18 points in 14 games, with a plus-12 rating
- Cale Makar has 17 assists and 22 points, leading the team in both categories in 14 games, with a plus-11 rating
- 12-5 in 17 games, swept President’s Trophy-winning Florida Panthers
- 3.06 GF/GP; 2.41 GA/GP
- 22.6% power play; 82.5% penalty kill
- Nikita Kucherov has 16 assists and 23 points, leading the team in each, in 17 games with a plus-4 rating
- Captain Steven Stamkos leads the team with nine goals and has totaled 15 points in 17 games with a plus-4 rating
These teams have a lot of similarities and are relatively evenly matched. Offensively, they both can score at a good rate and have seen good contributions up and down the lineup. Despite this, the firepower and depth that the Avalanche brings to the table put them over the edge offensively, but not by much.
Both teams have great defensive corps, but in terms of team defense the Lightning have the edge. That shut-down line of Brandon Hagel, Anthony Cirelli and Alex Killorn that made life difficult for teams throughout the playoffs needs to just limit the damage that the Avalanche’s big guns can cause. Additionally, players like Victor Hedman and Ryan McDonagh are fantastic leaders from the blue line. The Lightning’s offensive depth can do the rest.
This aspect of their matchup is the kicker – literally. It’s about the guys who will be kicking pucks out all night. Darcy Kuemper and potentially Pavel Francouz for the Avalanche, and Andrei Vasilevskiy for the Lightning. Things haven’t been too pretty for the duo from Colorado statistically, despite their wins.
Kuemper has played in 10 games, starting all of them, and has a 2.65 GAA and a .897 SV%. Francouz has played in six, starting four, and has a 2.86 GAA and a .906 SV%. To me, it’s evident that the offense has bailed them out. For the Lightning, it’s been all Vasilevskiy, as we’ve become so accustomed to seeing the past two years. He’s started all 17 games and has a 2.27 GAA and .928 SV%, playing every minute.
One could argue that offensively, the Western Conference took the cake this postseason, and that same person could argue that the Eastern Conference’s goalies held an advantage; at least regarding each respect Conference Final. It’s especially important to note how the Lighting can play either a high-scoring or a highly defensive game and have no reservations adapting to meet the context of the game.
If these two teams break even between offense and defense, and it’s up to the goalies, the Lightning have the advantage and will win the Stanley Cup for the third straight year. Having these last few years of championship experience could prove instrumental in the series as it may be the hardest of the past three years of Stanley Cup Final appearances. Speaking of championship experience, a win this season would also be four straight for Maroon, AKA the “Big Rig.”
The 2021-22 NHL season is in its home stretch. Enjoy the final series of the hunt for the greatest trophy in all of sports. While enjoying the on-ice product, stick with The Hockey Writers for all the off-ice analysis. Additionally, our FREE NHL Entry Draft Guide has everything from prospect profiles to team-specific articles, draft rankings, and more.