Inform your NHL predictions ahead of this week's biggest matches with Pinnacle's weekly update, including analysis, team news, and the latest hockey odds.
Game on! The Colorado Avalanche had threatened to run away with the Stanley Cup after the first two games but the Tampa Bay Lightning have shown they are not going to give up their trophy without a fight.
Tampa Bay Lightning at Colorado Avalanche predictions
Game 1 had perhaps provided the opener that everyone had expected, with little separating the two top-quality sides and the Avalanche needing overtime to draw first blood in the seven-match series, edging the contest 4-3.
Then came Game 2, with the Avalanche blowing the two-time defending champions away in a thoroughly one-sided contest that offered little encouragement from a Lightning viewpoint.
Goals rained in from everywhere with Conn Smythe Trophy contender Andrei Vasilevskiy seemingly powerless to prevent all seven goals going in, saving just 23 of 30 shots for a save percentage of .767.
Having been kept off the scoresheet in Game 1, Colorado's Cale Makar scored two goals to enhance his own Conn Smythe Trophy chances, with Mikko Rantanen topping the point-scoring with three assists.
There had been suggestions that Tampa Bay's lengthy last three seasons (winning the Cup twice and reaching the Finals this year) were catching up with them, but, as the champions they are, they put such thoughts firmly to bed in Game 3 to push themselves back into contention.
Captain Steven Stamkos contributed his first points of the Finals series with a goal and an assist, a feat matched by key winger Ondrej Palat, while the experienced duo of Nikita Kucherov and Victor Hedman both provided two assists as the big guns stepped up, as they needed to.
The Avalanche still carried a threat with Gabriel Landeskog scoring two goals on the powerplay, with Rantanen and Makar providing the assists for both, but the Avalanche's defence went missing on Monday night in the 6-2 defeat.
What may at least be encouraging for Colorado, despite losing their unbeaten road record in the playoffs, was the fact they still were able to provide offensive threat with 39 shots on goal, compared to the Lightning's dismal tally of 16 in their 7-0 defeat in Game 2.
However, it also perhaps proved the adage that you can't keep a good man down as Vasilevskiy bounced back from his Game 2 nightmare, saving 37 of 39 shots for a .949 save percentage, to reinforce the belief he is the best goaltender in the business.
The Avalanche need to find a way of getting the better of the Russian ace on a consistent basis. More production from superstar centre Nathan MacKinnon would help, with the 26-year-old having been restricted to just two assists in the series so far. He still shares the team lead for goals in the playoffs with 11 alongside Landeskog but has now slipped to fourth in points behind the Swede, Makar, and Rantanen.
Of course, Colorado will be aware of the defensive frailties they showed in Game 3 and have a decision to make between the pipes after Darcy Kuemper was pulled on Monday night after conceding five goals from 22 shots for a .773 save percentage.
Pavel Francouz stepped in to make nine saves from 10 shots for a .900 save percentage to give coach Jared Bednar a nudge, with Kuemper's .870 save percentage in the Game 1 win hardly a ringing endorsement of his ability to keep the Lightning at bay. Kuemper did of course enjoy a shutout in Game 2.
Still, the Lightning would appear to have the upper hand in the goaltender battle with Vasilevskiy boasting an overall save percentage of .920 to rank fifth in the playoffs, while Francouz is down in 11th with .906 and Kuemper is 17th with just .892.
Both sides will be waiting on potentially key injury news with the Lightning’s Brayden Point and the Avalanche’s Andre Burakovsky both forced to miss Game 3 with lower-body and hand injuries respectively. They would undoubtedly strengthen each line-up, should they be fit enough to return. However, the biggest concern could be the Lightning’s leading point-scorer Kucherov, who was forced to leave Game 3 in the third period following a cross-check from Devon Toews.
Home advantage has been crucial so far in this Finals series which gives Colorado the edge as the higher seeds, and means Tampa Bay need to win at least one game on the road if they are to write their own piece of history as "three-peaters".
Whether that comes in Game 5 on Friday night is open to question but thankfully, for the time being at least, they have shown that the Avalanche will not be getting everything their own way in this one.
Get great NHL odds on numerous markets for every game this season with Pinnacle.