With a victory on Friday night at Ball Arena, the Avalanche will win the Stanley Cup for the third time and prevent the Tampa Bay Lightning from a three-peat.
Five things to watch for Game 5
1) Close it out at home. The Avalanche haven’t closed out a playoff series at home since 2008. They can win the Stanley Cup in front of the burgundy-and-blue faithful at Ball Arena for Denver’s biggest hockey celebration since 2001.
“It’s going to be great,” Avalanche coach Jared Bednar said Thursday morning at the Tampa airport. “We try all season long to get home-ice advantage and we came in and got a split in Tampa, played better the second night than we did in the first. Our guys will be excited. Our guys are excited and should be playing with desperation. It should be a great hockey game.”
2) Bolts of Lightning. Tampa Bay won twice in the first round against Toronto when facing an elimination game and the Lightning trailed the New York Rangers 2-0 in the Eastern Conference finals. The Bolts don’t back down.
“Just focus on one game. We can. We have to go win a game,” Lightning forward Pat Maroon said. “Right now our focus is Game 5, and we have to go win. I mean, there’s nothing (else) really we can do.”
3) Stay in the moment. Colorado doesn’t want to get away with what has worked. The Avs are 15-3 in the postseason and a 16-3 finish would be the second-best since the NHL went to a best-of-seven, four-round format in the 1980s. The 1988 Edmonton Oilers hold the record of 16-2. The Avs’ previous Cup-winning runs ended 16-6 in 1996 and 16-7 in 2001.
“It helps us stay in the moment and focus on the things that we can control and to me, that’s the process of what makes us successful,” Bednar said. “Our preparation, our breaking the game down into five-minute increments so we’re sharp and doing what we need to do to have success. That’s our process for success so far this season and we’re not going to change it now.”
4) Play fast. The Avalanche outscored the Lightning 11-3 in sweeping Games 1 and 2 in Denver. Colorado played fast — faster than it did in Tampa because of deteriorating ice conditions there. Because the Avs are the faster team in this series, expect the Ball Arena ice crew to make sure the conditions favor the home team.
“We have a great opportunity here to clinch something great for the team, but at the end of the day, we have to focus on ourselves and play our game and then wherever that takes us, it takes us,” Avs defenseman Cale Makar said. “We have a lot of faith and a lot of belief in the boys and there’s definitely no wavering confidence in our room.”
5) Be special in rare times. The Avalanche is on fire on special teams in this series, going 6-of-13 on the power play and killing off 13 of 14 shorthanded situations. But penalties are less frequently called as the series goes on and both teams must recognize that they will have to fight through non-calls and focus on how they play at even strength.
“It’s playoff hockey. Stanley Cup Finals. You’re expected as players to fight through a certain amount of stuff, because it’s the most competitive time of the year,” Bednar said. “The refs aren’t going to call the ticky-tack stuff that puts teams down and gives them the other team an advantage. They’re going to let the players settle the game. That’s the way it should be.”