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Avalanche to win 

Game 4 was one of those games you look at and wonder what more the Lightning could have done. They played some of their best hockey of the series in regulation, but when that game got to overtime, the separation between the Avalanche and the two-time defending champions was stark. Colorado owned the extra frame and their speed took over. The fact that Tampa played that well, got that good a performance out of Andrei Vasilevskiy and still lost has to be a significant gut punch.

Now the series shifts back to Denver, where the Avalanche have been particularly sharp, and now they have a chance to win the Stanley Cup. Colorado has not once looked like they will shrink in the big moments. If anything, they look like a team that thrives on the pressure and competition. To win Game 4, a game where they were not the better team for long stretches like some of the others, that has to show to them that it’s all there for the taking.

No one should immediately count out the Lightning. We have too much evidence to suggest that getting the fourth win against them is going to come at a cost. But Tampa is banged up. They may be without Erik Cernak going forward, and are already without Brayden Point, while Anthony Cirelli was injured late and Nikita Kucherov appears to be playing through something. They’re just running out of healthy bodies to stay with the quicker, younger Avalanche.

I thought at the beginning that Colorado was not quite ready for this moment, that they didn’t have the experience to look the champs in the eye and rip the Cup out of their hands. Now I wonder why I could have been so blind to how this entire season has been a march to this moment for Colorado. Every move from their front office, the adjustments from coach Jared Bednar, the way their stars have stepped up. To have the chance to end the franchise’s 21-year Cup drought on home ice is an opportunity the Avalanche will not pass up.

Under 6 total goals 

The Lightning are not going to go quietly and they’re going to put a lot of pressure on Colorado to not let them off the mat. The last game finally went under the total goals and I think this one will, too. It’s too critical a game for both teams to play super loose. I’d also expect Andrei Vasilveskiy to be a massive part of keeping Tampa in it just as he did in Game 4.

There were a ton of shots on goal in the last game between the two sides, but both Vasilevskiy and Darcy Kuemper were excellent throughout. This close to the Cup, I’d expect both goalies to be on their games. Meanwhile, Tampa’s injury trouble is a growing concern and I’m not sure they’ve got enough offense to get them through. That should contribute to keeping the goal total pretty low.

Nathan MacKinnon anytime goalscorer

He was perhaps the most critical piece of the Avalanche’s rebuild when he was selected nine years ago and remains one of the key cogs of a franchise that is on the cusp of coming a long way back from the depths of the league. MacKinnon was absolutely buzzing in Game 4, putting up seven shots on goal in the second period alone. He played that game like a man possessed and now he’s got the Stanley Cup in his sights.

I’d expect MacKinnon to direct a ton of pucks on net and be able to squeak at least one through the mighty Vasilevskiy. MacKinnon is averaging 5.5 shots on goal per game in this series and only has the one goal so far. I think he’ll factor in again before Colorado lifts the Cup.

Cale Makar over 2.5 shots on goal

After registering no shots in Game 1, Makar has put up 14 shots over the next three games. His engagement from the back end is critical to Colorado’s success. There’s a good chance he’s the Conn Smythe Trophy winner for playoff MVP as well. If we think the Avs are going to clinch in Game 5, Makar is going to be a big part of it. I expect the Lightning to push, but I expect even more that Makar is going to be able to handle himself well at both ends of the ice.

He has been so impressive to watch in this postseason and now has his first Norris Trophy to go along with what could be the bigger, shinier trophy all the teams chase and every young hockey player dreams about. Expect big things from Makar in this one.