NHL betting: 2022 Stanley Cup Finals preview and picks
Chris Peters previews the 2022 Stanley Cup playoffs between two-time defending champions Tampa Bay Lightning and the Colorado Avalanche.
The 2022 Stanley Cup Finals might be the reward for going through the last three seasons with so many COVID-19 disruptions that you wondered if we’d ever get those seasons in.
Against all odds, the NHL has been able to award the Stanley Cup in each of the previous two campaigns and will get to do it again this summer. Not shockingly, the Tampa Bay Lightning have been part of all three.
The two-time defending Stanley Cup champions may be getting their toughest test yet, however. The Colorado Avalanche spent pretty much the entire season as the NHL’s best team with elite goal scorers, tremendous depth and good-enough goaltending. The Lightning had to claw their way through the regular season, but after three straight series where they reminded everyone while they’re still champs, they look as threatening as ever to win the Cup again.
This is going to be a lot of fun to watch, but this is likely going to be a series that is won in the margins. Both teams are so good that you wonder how the stars cancel each other out and if this ends up being a series that comes down to who has the better depth, or if it’s going to be up to Andrei Vasilevskiy once again to play the role of all-world goalie and put Tampa on his back. Any of those things are possible.
So let’s start there. Andrei Vasilevskiy absolutely slammed the door shut on the Rangers after two below-standard performances in Games 1 and 2 of the Eastern Conference Finals. The Conn Smythe winner from last year hasn’t put up the same numbers he did last season, but he has been the difference for his team of late with a .928 save percentage over 17 starts. Despite a rocky first round, he has allowed two or fewer goals in nine of 11 games over the next two series. He’s as dialed in as it gets and just outdueled his younger counterpart with the Rangers. He's going to be the best goalie the Avalanche have faced all year.
There’s also another factor to consider: injuries. The Lightning are expecting to get Brayden Point back for the series, but how effective he’ll be is a mystery until we get to see him in Game 1. Even at 70 per cent, he’s an excellent player.
Meanwhile, Colorado could be missing Nazem Kadri and Andrew Cogliano, and have already been playing without Sam Girard for much of the postseason. Depth is going to matter a ton in this final. Colorado’s injury situation bears watching. The biggest one, however, is the status of Darcy Kuemper, who has not played since leaving Game 1 against Edmonton early. He says he is good to go, but Pavel Francouz played well in his absence. One would expect Kuemper to get the nod all things considered.
I think you could make a case that the Avalanche are the deeper team if they’re healthy enough. But they’ve never been to this stage and they’re going against the two-time defending champions, who are battle tested and have taken best shots from Toronto, Carolina and the Rangers, and ultimately found a way.
There are two reasons I think the Lightning are going to win this series. Andrei Vasilveskiy is the first, and the second is that they have the recipe to slow teams down. No one has been able to slow the Avalanche down enough in these playoffs to knock them out. I think Tampa can, with their mix of skill and physicality, as well as a defense that plays at such a high level when it comes to puck possession. Once you get through that defense, then you’ve got to try to score on Vasilevskiy. I believe the Avs are going to win a Stanley Cup in the near future, but the champs are still the champs.
My pick: Lightning in six
There are a number of different plays you can make here. If you agree with me that the series will go to six games, you can bet the series total games as a future. There’s also the series spread, in which the Lightning are given games at +1.5. You can also bet the series final score, which in my case would be Lightning winning the series 4-2. There are a lot of fun options to play with for the Stanley Cup Finals based on how long the series will go.
Most points in series: Nikita Kucherov
Looking at some of the other futures in this series, top point scorer is a fun one. There has not been a more consistent postseason scorer over the last three seasons than Kucherov. He’s going to have some incredibly stiff competition to be the top scorer in the final, which is why you’re going to get decent value, but to me, he is the most likely to lead this series in scoring.
He had a strong finish to the Eastern Conference Finals with points in each of the last five games for a total of eight in the six-game series. He has gone without a point in only five of the 17 postseason games he’s played in this year.
If he scores at his career per-game rate for postseason scoring, Kucherov should get close to seven points in the series. I think this is going to be a fairly tight series and that the goals are going to be harder to come by than they have been in previous events, but if you’re looking for someone to lead the way offensively, Kucherov seems like the best bet.
Enjoy the final, everyone. It should be a great one.