When the Stanley Cup Final begins on Wednesday night time, the Tampa Bay Lightning know what to anticipate out of beginning goaltender Andrei Vasilevskiy. But for the Colorado Avalanche, uncertainty exists. Head coach Jared Bednar has not indicated whether or not Darcy Kuemper or Pavel Francouz will man the crease in Game 1.

What is obvious, nevertheless, is that each the Lightning and Avalanche have been staunch defensively up to now within the postseason. The Lightning have given up a median of simply 2.41 targets per recreation, whereas the Avalanche – at 2.86 – aren’t far behind.

Hard work and techniques have performed a serious position in every workforce’s success. But goaltending has as nicely, and the significance of the place will ramp up even additional in the course of the Stanley Cup Final.

Here’s what to anticipate in what I really feel is a really intriguing goalie matchup.

Colorado Avalanche (1) vs. Tampa Bay Lightning (3)

Darcy Kuemper (COL): 10 GP, 6-2, 2.65 GAA, .897 SV%

Pavel Francouz (COL): 6 GP, 4-6, 2.86 GAA, .906 SV%

Andrei Vasilevskiy (TBL): 17 GP, 12-5, 2.27 GAA, .928 SV%

The greatest query mark for the Avalanche main into the Stanley Cup Final is unequivocally goaltending. Namely, who will begin Game 1 in opposition to the Lightning. 

Kuemper hasn’t performed since May 31, when he left Game 1 of the Western Conference ultimate with an upper-body harm. Pavel Francouz took over and gained 4 straight video games in opposition to the Edmonton Oilers. 

To me, it needs to be a straightforward resolution for Avalanche head coach Jared Bednar. Start Kuemper. He was the No. 1 goaltender for the Avs all season, profitable 37 video games and posting a .921 save share.

Francouz performed backup minutes in the course of the common season – when wholesome. He posted a .916 save share however began simply 18 video games.

Colorado GM Joe Sakic gave up a first-round choose final summer time to accumulate Kuemper for this precise second. Winning the Stanley Cup requires elite goaltending, which Kuemper offered for many of the season.

But right here’s the conundrum: Kuemper has been serviceable however not nice thus far this postseason. And he’s missed important taking part in time. An eye harm within the first spherical in opposition to the Nashville Predators prevented Kuemper from ending the collection. Then he missed practically all the third spherical matchup in opposition to the Oilers.

If Kuemper begins Game 1, which I feel is probably going on condition that he backed up Francouz in Game 4 in opposition to Edmonton, regulate his footwork. At 6-foot-5, Kuemper is a giant goaltender. And he makes use of his dimension to his benefit by taking part in a comparatively robust positional recreation.

But for me, Kuemper’s skating and lack of explosiveness are areas of concern. At instances he drifts between locations and lacks precision. Not solely does that make rebound saves tougher, I feel it additionally hurts his puck monitoring.

Kuemper was crushed clear too usually within the second spherical in opposition to St. Louis. And he struggled to seek out and management pictures by means of visitors. Against the Lightning, that may’t occur. Tampa Bay is excellent at getting pucks and our bodies to the entrance of the online.

But that’s really a cause why I don’t assume Francouz is more likely to be Colorado’s beginning goaltender in opposition to the Lightning. At six-foot, Francouz is undersized. And that’s problematic in opposition to Tampa Bay, a workforce that simply knocked out the New York Rangers and sure Vezina Trophy winner Igor Shesterkin with a number of screened pictures from the purpose.

Francouz did his job in opposition to Nashville and Edmonton, going 6-0 and posting a .906 save share. But it was the attention check in opposition to the Oilers that involved me. Francouz made some big saves, however he additionally struggled to get throughout when the puck moved laterally.

An enormous a part of that’s structural. Francouz tends to get low and broad in his stance when the play travels downhill towards him. That locks his ft in place and prevents him from rotating – and pushing – effectively.

So whereas I feel Kuemper has struggled to discover a rhythm on this season’s playoffs, he has dimension and expertise on his facet. He’s nicely rested. And he is has had loads of observe time to get his recreation dialed in.

The Avalanche have been an absolute steamroller all season. They’ve solely misplaced two video games within the postseason, each to the St. Louis Blues within the second spherical. Goaltending hasn’t been a lot of an element but for Colorado.

That’s about to vary. Because if latest video games are any indicator, the Lightning are going to be essentially the most formidable offensive opponent Colorado has confronted up to now. 

I’ve little question that if the Avalanche are to hoist the Stanley Cup, it can require a giant efficiency in aim. And historical past is on Colorado’s facet. Kuemper is 4-2 lifetime in opposition to the Lightning with a .920 save share.

I’m all the time cautious with profession numbers in opposition to sure groups. I don’t assume they all the time inform the complete story for goaltenders. But not this time. Andrei Vasilevskiy’s worst profession statistics are in opposition to the Avalanche.

The Lightning netminder has solely crushed Colorado as soon as in 5 tries. His save share in these video games is simply .877 – his lowest in opposition to any NHL workforce.

It is smart on condition that Colorado is likely one of the most dynamic offensive groups that the NHL has seen in latest reminiscence. But it does give me pause with Vasilevskiy, as a result of there are only a few groups that he’s traditionally struggled in opposition to.

The saving grace for the Lightning is that ‘The Big Cat’ has as soon as once more been a dominant pressure within the postseason. Despite a sluggish begin in opposition to the Toronto Maple Leafs within the first spherical and permitting 9 targets mixed in Games 1 and a pair of in opposition to the Rangers, Vasilevskiy rapidly regained kind. In three series-clinching performances thus far this postseason, the Lightning netminder has allowed simply two targets. 

Vasilevskiy has gained the Stanley Cup in back-to-back seasons and rapidly cemented his legacy as one of many best clutch performers within the historical past of the game. Since 2020, he’s an ideal 11-0 in potential elimination video games. And Vasilevskiy has an NHL-record six series-clinching shutouts to his identify, the newest coming in opposition to the Florida Panthers to shut out the sound spherical.

There’s been lots of discuss Vasilevskiy’s vulnerability on pictures aimed excessive on his blocker facet. And there’s fact to it. Vasilevskiy has been crushed an inordinate quantity of instances over his proper shoulder.

I’ve seen that when Vasilevskiy is peering round visitors, his weight tends to load up closely on his proper leg. That may cause him to lock in place off the right angle, unable to make a ultimate lateral adjustment earlier than the shot is launched. And as soon as the shot is coming, Vasilevskiy has a behavior of sliding into the shot reasonably than reacting cleanly with the blocker hand.

No doubt the Avalanche will look to focus on excessive blocker facet on Vasilevskiy. But I don’t assume it is going to be their essential focus. Colorado will look to take a web page from the Rangers, after they had been in a position to rating early within the collection in opposition to Vasilevskiy and the Lightning.

The key to New York’s scoring was shifting the puck rapidly by means of center ice, and releasing the shot instantly contained in the close to put up. Hitting the center of the online gained’t be adequate in opposition to Vasilevskiy. His explosiveness and adaptability nearly all the time provides him an opportunity to make the save. But if Vasilevskiy is shifting – like all goaltender – there are holes. And Colorado is aware of it needs to be diligent about shot placement.

The Rangers put greater than 30 pictures on Vasilevskiy in solely three of six video games. I don’t count on that to occur in opposition to the Avalanche, who’re averaging 40.7 pictures per recreation within the postseason. Vasilevskiy will probably face the next quantity – and high quality – of pictures in opposition to Colorado than he did within the Eastern Conference ultimate.

What stays to be seen is how Colorado generates offense in opposition to the Lightning. The Avalanche have been an impressive rush workforce all season, one thing Vasilevskiy hasn’t seen a lot of this postseason. That’s a credit score to the Tampa Bay gamers in entrance of him. But I do assume Colorado will be capable of break by means of on the push.

Vasilevskiy will probably be challenged in methods he hasn’t seen but this postseason. Colorado’s energy play has a number of choices and the Avalanche have game-breaking gamers in Nathan MacKinnon and Cale Makar.

But I feel Vasilevskiy’s best energy is his psychological strategy. He might permit 9 targets in Game 1 of the collection and it wouldn’t faze him. He has proven again and again that he has no downside shrugging off a foul efficiency.

To me, on this collection, Vasilevskiy is the management group whereas Kuemper is the experimental group. The Lightning know what they’re getting in Vasilevskiy. But I don’t assume the Avalanche can say the identical about Darcy Kuemper or Pavel Francouz.

And that’s what makes this 12 months’s Stanley Cup Final so intriguing. Vasilevskiy has been there, completed that. Kuemper continues to be within the prove-it stage of his profession. And each are 4 wins away from lifting the Stanley Cup.

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