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Avalanche playoffs

Frei: Talked myself into it. Avalanche in 7

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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.

$20 Dollar Bonus Voucher!

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.

Unlikely?

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 (terry@terryfrei.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

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Ted Grycel

LOL, very safe Terry !!!!!! But I do respect your knowledge of the game and what it takes, so I’ll take that you are leaning Avs in 7. We need some new Stanley Cup Avalanche legends to be born. Sakic, Forsberg, Foote would not be legends unless they won that first cup, sure would love to see Landy, Mac, Mikko, Makar, Kadri added to that list. To me especially Kadri, has worked so hard to become the person he is and have the utmost respect. His presence should he come back and play could be a huge rallying point. Good… Read more »

Luke Waggoner

I personally have Avs in 5. I don’t think Tampa Bay will come close to being able to match the Avs speed, and I think the Avs waves will overwhelm them. The only way I see Tampa taking this is either serious injuries to key guys like MacKinnon, Makar, Taser, Landy, etc, or a complete collapse in goaltending.

John Klingenstein

Kind of getting sick of all the slobering over Vasilevskiy. Yes, he might be a better goalie than the Avs have, but he’s not THAT much better and is very beatable like any goalie. Yes Keumper has to play better then he did after the eye injury, but if he plays like he did most of the season and throughout his career, that will be more than enough for the Avs to take care of a weaker overall Lightning team. Did Vasilevskiy play so well a few years ago when Tampa got swept by Columbus? Need I remind you?…ain those… Read more »

Glendon Gulliver

I agree with you. Vasilevskiy lost both games to the Avs this year. The games were low scoring and close, but the Avs won. We can probably expect the same in the finals. The Avs are averaging almost 41 shots a game in the playoffs. They need to continue to shoot the puck and play relentless defense. They also need to not get frustrated if they only get 3 goals on over 40 shots. That is still 3 goals and if the defense continues to play well, that may be enough. If the Avs play their game and don’t get… Read more »

Brad Jacobs

The difference between TB and Colorado defensively is very small. The Avs are more talented top to bottom especially if Kadri plays. Vassy is better than Kuemper, by how much will be the difference in the series. I think it’s Mac/Cale’s time. Avs in 6.

Last edited 17 days ago by Brad Jacobs
Bob Neal

Here it is. They certainly have a team that can win the Cup and seem very hungry. LET’S GO AV’S!

Eileen

I don’t believe the Lightening are as good as they have been.
It only takes 1 game to get in a goalie’s head.
Avs in 5.

GWood

My first instinct was Avs in 6, then it moved to Avs in 7, but I am back to Avs in 6. They have demonstrated the ablility to ignore the scoreboard if they fall behind and stick to their game. And that game is superior. Go Avs, bring it home!!!

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