Which team should Avalanche prefer to play in Cup Finals: Rangers or Lightning?


A team four wins away from a third consecutive Stanley Cup or a team who will have won seven elimination games in this playoff season?

The Avalanche continued its wait Friday as the Tampa Bay Lightning and New York Rangers headed back to Florida for Saturday’s Game 6 of the Eastern Conference Finals. The Lightning holds a 3-2 series lead.

Throughout their 14-game tour de force through the Western Conference, the Avalanche showed it could equal parts win a track meet (8-6 and 6-5 over Edmonton) and a rock fight (2-1 over Nashville, two 3-2 wins over St. Louis and 4-0 and 4-2 over the Oilers). This team is built to play against multiple styles.

So who should the Avs want to play? By category, here’s one guess on which team they should prefer:


Who should the Avalanche prefer: The Rangers … by a land-slide.

Tampa Bay, with players who have been with the Lightning during its entire championship run and veterans who have been added to the mix, is full of playoff veterans. At least seven players have at least 100 postseason games under their belts, led by winger Corey Perry’s 183, defenseman Victor Hedman’s 148 and winger Pat Maroon’s 137.

The Lightning have been through just about everything in the playoffs. It won a Game 7 at Toronto last month. It swept favored Florida in the second round. And it has won three consecutive games over the Rangers after falling behind 2-0.

The Rangers have only one player with at least 100 playoff games — defenseman Justin Braun (118). Winger Chris Kreider will appear in his 100th playoff game on Saturday.

Winger Andrew Cogliano is the only Avalanche player in triple digits (111 games) and his status for the final round is uncertain because of injury. Center Darren Helm has 96 playoff games.

Opposing goalie

Who should the Avalanche prefer: The Rangers’ Igor Shesterkin.

The 26-year-old Shesterkin is 10-8 in his first playoff season with a 2.62 goals against average and a .929 save percentage.

Lightning goalie Andrei Vasilevskiy, 27, has made 97 playoff appearances, posting a 60-34 record, 2.26 goals-against average and .924 save percentage. During the Lightning’s two title-winning seasons, he had a goals-against average of 1.90.

Top-six forwards

Who should the Avalanche prefer: The Lightning.

Tampa Bay’s top two forward lines are Steven Stamkos centering Palat and Nikita Kucherov, and Anthony Cirelli centering Brandon Hagel and Alex Killorn.

Kucherov is a terrific player (22 points in 16 games), but he is the only Lightning forward with at least 15 points in the playoffs.

The Rangers’ top two lines Thursday night were Mika Zibanejad centering Kreider and Frank Vatrano and Ryan Strome centering Artemi Panarin and Andrew Copp.

Zibanejab is the hub of the Rangers’ offensive wheel (24 points in 19 games) and is one of five players with at least 12 playoff points.

Shutdown defensemen

Who should the Avalanche prefer: The Rangers.

New York’s top four defensemen in ice time during the playoffs are ages 23 (Adam Fox), 22 (K’Andre Miller), 27 (Jacob Trouba) and 23 (Ryan Lindgren). But only Lindgren (plus-9) is better than a plus-1. Fox (23 points) is the Rangers’ version of Cale Makar.

The Lightning’s top two defensemen are Hedman, 31, and Ryan McDonagh, 32. They may not be the swiftest players, but they understand angles and how to use their stick to break up odd-man rushes.

Special teams

Who should the Avalanche prefer: The Lightning’s power play and the Rangers’ penalty kill.

Among the eight teams who advanced past the first round, the Rangers lead the NHL in power-play rate (31.5%) and Tampa Bay is fifth (23%).

Among the eight second-round teams, Tampa Bay is second in penalty kill (83.6%) and the Rangers are fifth (79.6%).