Stanley Cup Final Game 4 preview: Lightning need to lean on goaltending advantage to even series
After getting rolled in the first two games of the 2022 Stanley Cup Final, the Tampa Bay Lightning were able to get on the board with a 6-2 win in Game 3. The difference for the Lightning was their ability to test Colorado Avalanche goaltender Darcy Kuemper. Coming into the series, I picked the Lightning to win because of their advantage in net. Andrei Vasilevskiy has been the best goaltender on the planet for a few years now, and Kuemper has struggled in the postseason.
That edge for the Bolts was on full display in Game 3.
On more than one occasion, Vasilevskiy stopped what looked like a sure goal. Unlike the first two games in Denver, he was locked in for a full 60 minutes at home in Game 3. He finished the game with 1.47 goals saved above average on a total of 3.47 expected goals against, according to Natural Stat Trick.
On the other end of the ice, not only did Kuemper fail to make a big save, but he couldn’t come up with relatively easy stops he probably should have made. Anthony Cirelli lost control of the puck on a break, and it slid through Kuemper’s legs and into the net. Pat Maroon banked a short-side shot off Kuemper for a goal from a tough angle. So with Colorado down 5-2 in Game 3, Kuemper was pulled in the second period. By that point, he had allowed 2.28 goals above expected on 2.72 expected goals against, per Natural Stat Trick.
It was a bad night for Kuemper, and it continued a recent stretch of troubling outings for the Colorado goaltender.
In his last seven starts, dating back to Game 4 against the St. Louis Blues, Kuemper has allowed at least three goals five timesIn that stretch, Kuemper has allowed 21 goals on 147 shots, which comes out to an .857 save percentage.Throughout these playoffs, Kuemper has faced just 22.7 shots per game. Despite that light workload, he has posted an abysmal -6.01 goals saved above average. That ranks last among the 30 goalies who have taken the ice in the postseason.
However, there is evidence to suggest Kuemper can turn things around. In the regular season, Kuemper ranked fourth in the NHL with 25.19 goals saved above average. The difference, though, is that Kuemper has simply not looked comfortable since the later half of the series against the Blues.
By contrast, Vasilevskiy has allowed two or fewer goals five times in his last seven starts. Throughout the 2022 postseason, Vasilevskiy ranks fourth in goals saved above average with 5.09 — and that is after a disastrous 7-0 loss to the Avalanche in Game 2.
Now just one win away from leveling the Stanley Cup Final, the Lightning must continue to make Kuemper work, which is something they didn’t do much in Denver. In those first two games, Tampa Bay generated a combined 2.80 expected goals, and they were just one shot away from winning Game 1.
No position in hockey has more control over the outcome of a game than the goaltender, and luckily for the Lightning, that’s the one obvious edge they have over the Avalanche. If Tampa Bay is going to come back and win this Stanley Cup Final, they will have to take advantage of that by peppering Kuemper early and often.