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Russians eye more Stanley Cup glory

The Tampa Bay Lightning meet the Colorado Avalanche for the NHL’s biggest prize, with Russian stars poised for key roles

Russian hockey will be represented by a quartet of stars when the Stanley Cup Final between the Tampa Bay Lightning and Colorado Avalanche begins this week, with the Lightning aiming for a rare ‘threepeat’ in the NHL showpiece.

The best-of-seven series gets underway at the Ball Arena home of the Avalanche on Wednesday night, beginning back-to-back games in Denver before the action shifts to Tampa’s Amalie Arena.

For the Bolts, it is a chance for to add to their Stanley Cup successes of 2020 and 2021. The team still coached by the respected Jon Cooper could become the first franchise to earn a hallowed ‘threepeat’ since the New York Islanders won four in a row at the start of the 1980s.

The Avalanche, meanwhile, are targeting a first championship since 2001, which was the second of their two titles to date. 

As in the past two years, the Lightning have crucially been helped on their way by the Russians on their roster.

Not least goalie Andrei Vasilevskiy, who recaptured some of his best form in the Eastern Conference Final triumph over the New York Rangers.

The 27-year-old is a candidate for the Conn Smythe Trophy handed out to the playoffs MVP – an accolade he won last season.

Crucially, Vasilevskiy prevailed in his hotly-tipped duel with compatriot goalie Igor Shesterkin of the Rangers as the Lightning came from behind to win their series 4-2.

Widely seen as the best in the world in his position, Vasilevskiy posted a .955 save percentage (106 saves from 111 shots on goal) as Tampa won the last four games of the Eastern Conference Final.

Just as in the past two years, Russian winger Nikita Kucherov will again be integral to Tampa’s chances of another Stanley Cup.

The 28-year-old is among the driving forces in the Bolts’ attack and has contributed a team-high 23 points in the postseason thus far.

The efforts from Kucherov – the NHL’s Hart Trophy winner in 2019 – have extended his tally as the record points scorer in playoff history for the franchise with 150 and counting. 

Kucherov heads into the meeting with the Avalanche on a points streak stretching five games and comprising three goals and five assists.

Elsewhere, Russian defenseman Mikhail Sergachev, 23, was particularly impressive as Tampa turned the tide in Game 5 of their series with New York.

Like compatriots Vasilevskiy and Kucherov, Sergachev will be seeking a third career Stanley Cup triumph.

Attempting to stop them will be Valeri Nichushkin, the only Russian on the Avalanche roster.

The 27-year-old former Dallas Stars draft pick is in his fourth season at Colorado and has chipped in with nine points thus far during the playoffs but will look to impress as he approaches free agency.

With their formidable depth, the Avalanche enjoyed a much more serene passage to this year’s Stanley Cup Final with a 4-0 sweep of the Edmonton Oilers in their Conference Final series.

Coached by Canadian Jared Bednar, the Avs are seen as the favorites with the bookies heading into the match-up with the Bolts, although it has been pointed out that Tampa were initially outsiders with some before their playoff wins against the Toronto Maple Leafs and Carolina Panthers.  

“The way I look at it is, to be the best you’ve got to expect to be able to beat the best,” Bednar said ahead of the series.

“That’s them. They’re the team that everyone’s trying to model after. They’re in the Final for the third year in a row.

“They’ve just won twice in a row. That’s what every team is trying to do, not just get there but stay there and be relevant every season in all the conversations with the best teams in the league and go on to prove that they are one.”

Lightning captain Steven Stamkos was equally complimentary of the Avalanche, labelling them “probably the best team in the league.”

“As you progress through the playoffs, each round gets tougher and each opponent gets tougher,” added the Canadian.

“There’s a reason why there’s two teams left, and it’s because they’re the two best teams in the league. We’re going to have our hands full.”

READ MORE: Ruling the ice with an iron fist: The story of Russia’s first hockey enforcer

Another Stanley Cup win for the Lightning in what will be their fifth finals would move them onto four championships in total – level with the St. Louis Eagles, the New York Rangers, and the New York Islanders on the all-time list.

Previously known as the Quebec Nordiques, the Avalanche will be targeting a third Stanley Cup overall, boasting a perfect record in two finals thus far, winning in 1996 and 2001.

https://ift.tt/Am0fVXW 14, 2022 at 07:55PM
from RT – Daily news

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