Before the puck was dropped for Game 1, one thing really struck me about this year’s Stanley Cup Final between the Colorado Avalanche and the Tampa Bay Lightning.
I picked the Avs, as did most according to the gambling numbers. I saw them as favorites anywhere from minus-175 to minus-190 leading up to Game 1.
What gave me pause, though, was the perceived goaltending disparity. Tampa’s Andrei Vasilevskiy is a four-time All-Star. He also has a Vezina Trophy and a Conn Smythe to his name, along with the last two Stanley Cup rings on his fingers. He is the most decorated big-game goalie of the salary-cap era.
Meanwhile, the Avalanche were just getting by with 32-year-old Pavel Francouz, who has spent most of his career playing in the KHL and the Czech Republic and 32-year-old NHL journeyman Darcy Kuemper. The Avs are his fourth NHL team.
Rare are the times in a Stanley Cup Final, or a Super Bowl, when the favorite is so clearly outclassed in net, or at the quarterback position. But that was the case with the Avalanche heading into this series.
No such problems so far.
Vasilevskiy has given up 11 goals in two games, both wins for the Avs. Colorado claimed the first two games in Denver by final scores of 4-3 (overtime) and 7-0. The Avalanche only needed 30 shots to get those seven goals in Game 2. Meanwhile Kuemper only needed 16 saves to post the shutout. Kuemper saw just 23 shots in the Game 1 overtime victory.
So the Avs have managed to suppress the Lightning’s shot attempts without compromising their own highly skilled offense.
During this week’s “Madden Monday’ podcast, Mark Madden of TribLIVE and 105.9 The X insisted that Tampa won’t get swept. But he doesn’t envision a full Lightning comeback as we saw them complete against the New York Rangers in the Eastern Conference Final after being down 0-2.
“They look tired,” Madden said of the Lightning. “They looked tired in the first two games against the Rangers, as well. But the difference is, in this series, they look tired, and they look overmatched.”
In fact, the series has been such a mismatch, in large part because of Colorado’s overwhelming team speed, Madden said the potential goaltending gap isn’t even being brought into play.
“The goaltending isn’t even a factor,” Madden said. “Kuemper isn’t even getting tested. And Vasilevskiy is getting unfairly tested, even for a goalie of his standard. So the goaltending has never even been a factor. And that’s Tampa’s biggest advantage and they aren’t even getting to it.”
I advanced a notion to Madden during the podcast that perhaps Penguins fans can take comfort in one thing from this series. Even though doubts remain about what Tristan Jarry’s playoff ceiling is, if the Penguins can build an elite team in front of Jarry, then (as with Kuemper and Francouz in Denver) maybe that’ll be good enough in Pittsburgh.
Madden thinks the Avs are too elite to make that comparison.
“I feel like you absolutely could win a Stanley Cup with Tristan Jarry in net … if you have the Colorado Avalanche playing in front of him,” Madden replied. “I think Penguins fans should look at this series and say, ‘You know what? We are not one or two moves away. We’re not a good player away. We are way, way, way, way, way far away.’ And if they want, patchwork by bringing back (Kris) Letang and (Evgeni) Malkin. But that’s all it is, patchwork. It will get them nowhere near a Stanley Cup.”
Also in the podcast, Madden and I discuss the Minkah Fitzpatrick contract extension with the Steelers. We examine Diontae Johnson’s situation. Plus, we talk some Pirates, and we delve into the 3ICE hockey league.
Listen: Tim Benz and Mark Madden talk the Stanley Cup Final, along with the Penguins, Steelers and Pirates
Tim Benz is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Tim at firstname.lastname@example.org or via Twitter. All tweets could be reposted. All emails are subject to publication unless specified otherwise.