The Stanley Cup Final between the Colorado Avalanche and the Tampa Bay Lightning begins Wednesday night as both teams are looking to hold the trophy.

It’s been 21 years since Colorado hosted a Stanley Cup, finishing off the 2001 series in 7 games. The Tampa Bay Lightning have much more recent history with the cup, winning the championship in 2020 and 2021, now going for a three-peat against the Avalanche.

Tampa Bay lost the season series to Colorado, and they enter the Stanley Cup Final with very little rest. The Lightning won the Eastern Conference just three days ago. The Avalanche swept their last series over Edmonton and haven’t played since June 6.

The Colorado Avalanche were one of the best teams in the league, though they may have eased up later in the season against the two-time defending champion Tampa Bay Lightning. It may be the highest quality final since Chicago beat Tampa Bay in 2015 and the fastest pair of teams to ever play in the Final.

The Lightning presents a challenge that the Avalanche haven’t seen in any previous playoff series. With that comes a tremendous opportunity for a young flourishing Avalanche core. Nathan MacKinnon mentioned to the media that he’s glad that Colorado is playing Tampa, a sentiment that Avalanche captain Gabe Landeskog echoed: “to be the best, you have to beat the best.”

The Avalanche have some of the best young players in the NHL. Led by Nathan MacKinnon, Mikko Rantanen and Cale Maker, the Avalanche finished as the best team in the Western Conference with 119 points. MacKinnon is tied for second in the playoffs with 11 goals, and Gabriel Landeskog has eight goals.

Colorado essentially breezed through the playoffs. The team swept the Nashville Predators in the first round and then defeated the St. Louis Blues in the conference semifinals 4-2. The Avalanche then swept the Edmonton Oilers.

It’s been a long time since the Avalanche have made the Final. Colorado hasn’t been in the Stanley Cup Final since 2001. The team, led by Bob Hartley, defeated the New Jersey Devils in seven games.

Aiming for a three-peat

The Lightning are looking to become the first team since the New York Islanders to win three consecutive Stanley Cup titles. The Islanders won four straight from 1980 to 1983. The Montreal Canadiens did it before them from 1976 to 1979, then the Maple Leafs from 1962 to 1964.

Projected Lineup of Colorado Avalanche

Gabriel Landeskog — Nathan MacKinnon — Valeri Nichushkin

Arturri Lehkonen — Mikko Rantanen – Andre Burakovsky

Alex Newhook — JT Compher — Nicolas Aube-Kubel

Nico Sturm — Darren Helm — Logan O’Connor

Devon Toews — Cale Makar

Jack Johnson — Josh Manson

Bowen Byram — Erik Johnson

Projected Lineup of Tampa Bay Lightning

Ondrej Palat — Steven Stamkos — Nikita Kucherov

Brandon Hagel — Anthony Cirelli — Alex Killorn

Ross Colton — Nick Paul — Brayden Point

Patrick Maroon — Pierre-Edouard Bellemare — Corey Perry

Victor Hedman — Jan Rutta

Ryan McDonagh — Erik Cernak

Mikhail Sergachev — Zach Bogosian