After a month and a half of intense playoff action, two teams have emerged from the carnage to contend for the most historic trophy in pro sports—the gigantic 34.5 pound Stanley Cup.
From the West we have the Colorado Avalanche, the most dominant team from the conference all season and postseason long, breezing past the Predators, Blues, and Oilers with the only bumps in the road coming from St. Louis.
From the other side of the continent topographics, we have the defending champions from Tampa Bay, who haven’t lost a playoff series since before the dawn of the decade and are seeking their third straight championship. They’ve clawed their way here by the skin of their teeth (though I didn’t think teeth had skin), surviving a back and forth 7-game series with the Toronto Maple Leafs with a slim 2-1 win in the final showdown.
And after a somewhat shocking 4-0 sweep of the regular season’s winningest team—the well-tanned Florida Panthers—became the team to finally knock out the never-give-up New York Rangers, who had taken both of their first and second round opponents to seven games.
Both teams are very capable of offensive explosions, as well as defensive rock fights, so regardless of whether it’s 7-6 or 2-1, these Finals should have some close battles of grit, attrition, and endurance. Some storylines to watch:
- Can Colorado go from measuring themselves against the recent Tampa Bay standard to becoming the new standard and start a new era of league dominance with a championship?
- How good will the defense be? Lightning goalie Andrei Vasilyevsky has a 2.27 GAA so far this postseason, and the Avalanche had to rely on their offense to carry them a couple of times against the Oilers with an 8-6 win in Game 1 and a 6-5 OT duel in Game 4. Will the Avalanche find themselves playing catch-up for most of the night or lead the charge?
- What factor will home ice advantage play? Which area will make it more difficult for the visitors, and will Colorado be rested or rusty?
The action all begins Wednesday night on ABC at 8 pm ET.