Would you have ever thought that after Game 2's 7-0 blowout that the Tampa Bay Lightning might actually find themselves in a position to win a third straight Stanley Cup?
They looked so beaten in that game; so inferior. And BetAnySports customers had to be thinking in that direction.
But now they have come back, to a spot where they can draw even at three games apiece by winning at home on Sunday night (8:15 PM ET). And if that happens, who would want to discount a team with Andrei Vasilevskiy in goal in a deciding game?
A lot of people were talking about Tampa Bay coach Jon Cooper as a beaten man and whether he could come back from his tirade after Game 4, in which the Avalanche may have had too many men on the ice but were not penalized for it, while in the same sequence of events Nazem Kadri streaked through the middle of the Lightning defense to score the winning goal in overtime.
But Tampa Bay came back to win Game 5, and on the Denver ice no less, returning to the scene of what was no doubt the most embarrassing experience of this three-year Stanley Cup run.
So psychologically, they have been able to bounce back.
All through the series, Tampa Bay has appeared to play back on its heels as Colorado has had a big edge in high-danger scoring chances, power play opportunities and shots on goal (a 180-141 margin). And it's probably safe to say that this would be over by now if not for the presence of Vasilevskiy, who is set to make his 99th playoff start in this game.
In Tampa, the opposition has scored just a shade over two goals a game against him in these playoffs. And if he gets by this one, keep in mind that in his last eleven "clinchers," Vassy has a 0.73 goals-against with seven shutouts.
The question is whether the Lightning will get there, and they are not favored to in the latest Stanley Cup Finals odds posted by BetAnySports:
Colorado Avalanche -115
Tampa Bay Lightning -105
Over 6 Goals +105
Under 6 Goals -125
Here is what we see on the puck line.....
Avalanche -1.5 Goals (+225)
Lightning +1.5 Goals (-260)
Even as they lost Game 5 by a 3-2 score, let's not be under the impression that the Avs suffered a collapse. They still came back from having just a couple of shots on goal midway through the first period to racking up 37 for the game. But what we were seeing earlier in the series, which was such a decided edge in terms of speed, control and even hustle - had softened up some.
There are people who put stock in the "Corsi" number as something that indicates puck control, which may in turn dictate opportunities. Well, after suffering in tha regard for most of the previous action, Tampa Bay had a 49.6% figure, which tells us that teh control factor was about even.
Even though it does sound like a bit of a cliche, it can be said that the Lightning have clutch performers. Ondrej Palat is not the biggest gun on this team, but he had the winning goal on Friday night and has now scored twelve game winners in his playoff career. There was some question about Nikita Kucherov's availability before Game 5, but he came out and scored a goal and registered six of Tampa's 29 shots on goal. Defenseman Victor Hedman leads the team in points, shots on goal AND ice time in the series.
They've won eleven consecutive playoff series, and the controversial Game 4 overtime loss was their only defeat at home in this postseason. And they have Vassy. So we're not going too far out on the limb when we say the Bolts look like the "value" side here.
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