20 players to watch as the Colorado Avalanche and Tampa Bay Lightning play for the Stanley Cup


The Tampa Bay Lightning‘s third consecutive trip to the Stanley Cup Final might be the most impressive because it was done after a salary cap-necessitated reshuffling.

“This group is pretty amazing, pretty special,” captain Steven Stamkos said. “You know the talk all season, we lost some guys and guys just came in and played unbelievable. Made some moves at the deadline and those guys have been instrumental.”

The Lightning lost the third line of Yanni Gourde, Barclay Goodrow and Blake Coleman, plus forward Tyler Johnson. They rebuilt their bottom six by adding Corey Perry and Pierre-Edouard Bellemare in the offseason, plus Brandon Hagel, Nick Paul and Riley Nash at the deadline.

That group joined an impressive core that will seek to become the first team since the 1980s to win three consecutive Stanley Cups. The highly skilled Colorado Avalanche stand in the way, with the Final starting in Denver on Wednesday (8 p.m. ET, ABC).

Ranking the top 20 players to watch in the Stanley Cup Final:

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Tampa Bay Lightning goaltender Andrei Vasilevskiy has a 2.27 goals-against average in the playoffs.

Tampa Bay Lightning goaltender Andrei Vasilevskiy has a 2.27 goals-against average in the playoffs.

1. Goaltender Andrei Vasilevskiy, Lightning: The money goaltender gave up at least three goals in his first six playoff games. But outside Game 1 of the Eastern Conference final, he has been dialed in since, including giving up three goals in a second-round sweep of the No. 1 overall Florida Panthers. He’ll be the toughest goaltender the Avalanche have faced.

2. Defenseman Cale Makar, Avalanche: He’s averaging 1.57 points a game, aided by five points in the Game 4 clincher against the Oilers. The Norris Trophy finalist leads Colorado in ice time, runs the power play and is dangerous on the offensive rush, but also is on the top penalty-killing unit.

3. Stamkos, Lightning: He defines doing whatever it takes to win. He blocks shots, scores key goals and even got into a fight. Sitting in the penalty box when the Rangers tied Game 6, he scored the game-winner 21 seconds later.

4. Forward Nathan MacKinnon, Avalanche: He has two playoff hat tricks, one capped off by a spectacular end-to-end rush. He also has solid possession numbers.

5. Forward Nikita Kucherov, Lightning: He has led the playoffs in scoring the last two seasons. He has a shot to make it three in a row.

6. Defenseman Victor Hedman, Lightning: He is a Norris Trophy finalist six years running and was playoff MVP in 2020.

7. Forward Gabriel Landeskog, Avalanche: He provides leadership and physical play, plus is tied for third on the team in playoff points. That’s why getting him locked in for eight years was the team’s top priority last offseason.

8. Forward Anthony Cirelli, Lightning: He has been…



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