Frei: Talked myself into it. Avalanche in 7
I’ve got a “homer” filter.
Always have, always will.
It’s almost to the point of overcompensating.
I’m of the increasingly unfashionable view that anyone wearing a media credential — even for team-centric sites and outlets — should at least pretend to be professionally objective.
That’s a long, clumsy way of saying I can be the contrarian.
No, not to the point of indulging in contrivance, clickbait or transparent yelling-across-the-table “hot take” extremes.
But I often ask myself if I’m getting caught up in the “homer” atmosphere. It’s that filter at work.
So a confession: My first inclination was to pick the Lightning over the Avalanche in the Stanley Cup Final, which opens Wednesday night at Ball Arena in Denver. And to pick them despite the Avalanche’s high-powered offensive juggernaut, featuring Nathan MacKinnon and Cale Makar.
I could think of plenty of reasons to make that pick.
The Lightning are two-time defending Stanley Cup champions and are gunning for a three-peat, with a secondary motivation to remove the asterisks from their 2020 and 2021.
The 2020 win came in bubble conditions after a 70-game regular season that included a lengthy shutdown. It’s arguable, though, that the unprecedented conditions were a more formidable test for all teams involved. Of mental discipline, of focus, of resilience.
The 2021 title came after a 56-game regular season and in a one-time rearranged divisional alignment with intra-divisional play only, plus a playoff bracket that left them facing overmatched Montreal in the Finals.
Don’t get me wrong. Absolutely, three titles in three years would put the Lightning in position to make short-term “dynasty” claims moving forward.
Andrei Vasilevskiy is the best goaltender on the planet.
Darcy Kuemper, the likely starter in the Colorado net in the wake of Jared Bednar’s insistence on going with him over Pavel Francouz, is not.
In this series, it’s entirely possible that the goaltending mismatch is the difference-maker, and that painstakingly breaking it down beyond that is just padding.
In his marathon minutes across the spectrum of duties, Victor Hedman remains one of the top three defensemen in the league — yes, even after Cale Makar’s emergence.
The Lightning are adept at keeping shots from getting through, and that might frustrate the Avalanche.
The Ondre Palat-Steven Stamkos-Nikita Kucherov line is dynamite.
OK, those are the highlights among the reasons I could advance for picking the Lightning.
But, with clear conscience after running it through that filter, I’ll take the Avalanche in an exciting, invigorating series that is a showcase for the league, the sport and, among others, Nathan MacKinnon and Makar.
In seven games.
The Avalanche will hoist the Stanley Cup for the third time, following the unique and stirring 1996 and 2001 narratives.
Kuemper or Francouz will need to supply at least decent goaltending, of course.
It would be a heartening story if Kuemper rises to the occasion and is reminiscent of Patrick Roy, the best “money” goalie in the history of the sport — and whose No. 33 hangs from the Ball Arena rafters.
Of course it is. But second-tier goalies have pulled off short-term stardom in prime time.
It can happen.
But will it?
Terry Frei (email@example.com, @tfrei) is a Denver-based author and journalist. He has been named a state’s sportswriter of the year seven times in peer voting — four times in Colorado and three times in Oregon. His seven books include the novels “Olympic Affair” and “The Witch’s Season.” Among his five non-fiction works are “Horns, Hogs, and Nixon Coming,” “Third Down and a War to Go,” “March 1939: Before the Madness,” and “’77: Denver, the Broncos, and a Coming of Age.” He also collaborated with Adrian Dater on “Save By Roy,” was a long-time vice president of the Professional Hockey Writers Association and has covered the hockey Rockies, Avalanche and the NHL at-large. His website is www.terryfrei.com and his bio is available at www.terryfrei.com/bio.html
His Colorado Hockey Now column archive can be accessed here