Avalanche study Maple Leafs series in attempt to solve Lightning

Colorado Avalanche head coach Jared Bednar talks about his team knowing that the Stanley Cup Final is far from over despite winning Game 1 against the Tampa Bay Lightning.

DENVER – By sweeping the Edmonton Oilers in the Western Conference final, the Colorado Avalanche bought themselves nine days to study the Tampa Bay Lightning and drum up a blueprint to overthrow the champions.

Head coach Jared Bednar and his staff sifted through all three of Tampa’s series on its road to the championship round, drilling down to find weaknesses the Lightning’s other opponents may have exploited.

Why could the Florida Panthers never gain a foothold in Round 2? What did the New York Rangers do right to win games 1 and 2 in the Eastern Conference final? And why did the Rangers’ success dry up so significantly as that series went deep, with the Lightning limited New York to just one even-strength goal over the final four games?

“They’re really comfortable playing in those tight-checking games,” Bednar says. “The more controlled, tight-checking game on their side favours them.

Of the Lightning’s past six playoff opponents, no team broke through the champs’ suffocating style with as much regularity as the Toronto Maple Leafs.

Toronto is the only club to outscore the Lightning (24-23) during its remarkable 11-series win streak.

So Bednar spent the bulk of his time poring over that seven-game first-round matchup.

“It was obviously a great series. It was a dynamic series. And I see a lot of similarities in the Leafs’ play, personnel, to ours,” Bednar says. “Some of the things that they do with the puck in their offensive strategy, structure, tactics, whatever you want to call it, there’s a lot of similarities.”

Like Toronto, the Avalanche is loaded with elite top-end talent. Both teams place a premium on puck possession and use their speed for rapid counterattacks.

Both are more likely to win the 4-3 game than the 2-1 game.

Neither are as tight-checking as Tampa, and the high-scoring nature of the Leafs-Lightning tilt (47 goals in seven games, easily the most in any series during Tampa’s run) surely has Bednar hoping to continue the high-tempo tone his team thrived in during Game 1.

Bednar noticed how similar his club plays to Sheldon Keefe’s during his meetings with the Leafs this season, when the sides combined for 20 goals in just two games.

“We learned that from playing against them this year. So, they have a lot of success,” Bednar says. “It’s tough to get that timely goal against [Andrei] Vasilevskiy and Tampa, the way they defend. But [the Leafs] had some really strong pushes throughout, pushes that we looked at really closely.”

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