Avs-Lightning Ranks Among Colorado’s Most Compelling Championship Matchups

Written By Ken Pomponio on 06/15/2022
2022 Stanley Cup Final matchup 061522

The Colorado Avalanche.

The Tampa Bay Lightning.

These two NHL powers are meeting in the 2022 Stanley Cup Final.

It’s also the 13th time one of the four major Colorado pro sports teams is playing its league championship game or series.

For the Avs, it’s their third time on the Stanley Cup stage. They’ve emerged victorious in the other two trips, hoisting the Cup in 1996 and 2001.

The Denver Broncos, meanwhile, have played in eight Super Bowls. Only the New England Patriots, with 11 Big Game appearances, have had more.

However, the Orange and Blue suffered losses in their first four trips to the Super stage and are 3-5 all-time in the Big Game.

Meanwhile, the Colorado Rockies and Denver Nuggets have only made one league championship series appearance apiece.

Colorado’s storied “Rocktober” run of 2007 ended ignominiously with a four-game World Series sweep at the hands of the Boston Red Sox.

And while the Nuggets infamously have not played in the NBA Finals in their 46 seasons in the league, they did make the 1976 American Basketball Association Finals — the last season before the 1976 ABA-NBA merger.

New York’s Nets, however, captured the final ABA title.

Avs favored vs. two-time defending champs

Circling back to 2022, Avs vs. Lightning certainly qualifies as a compelling matchup.

It pits the West’s best against the two-time-defending Stanley Cup champs.

And one of the league’s most potent offensive teams (Colorado) against one of the stingiest defensive squads (Tampa Bay).

Stanley Cup betting is sure to hit a fever pitch in the Centennial State.

The Avalanche enter the series as solid favorites.

Several Colorado sportsbooks, though, are hoping the Lightning strikes a third time in as many seasons.

“The Avalanche are the favorites to win the Stanley Cup and have been a big problem from a liability perspective since BetMGM posted opening odds,” BetMGM Colorado sports trader Christian Cipollini said Tuesday. “The sportsbook is cheering for the Lightning to lift the Cup.”

It just adds to the ample intrigue.

But where does the Colorado-Tampa Bay rank among the Colorado 13?

Glad you asked.

We’ve ranked all 13 championship matchups, beginning with the least compelling/intriguing to the most. The top five, deservedly, get more in-depth treatment.

And please note we’re judging the intrigue from a pre-competition standpoint — not the final outcome. In other words, which matchups generated the most lead-up local and national buzz.

Here goes, starting with …

The rankings: No. 13 through No. 6

Here are the rankings of the eight Colorado team championship matchups which didn’t make our top five:

13. Super Bowl XXIV: Broncos vs. San Francisco 49ers

12. 1995-96 Stanley Cup Final: Avalanche vs. Florida Panthers

11. 1975-76 ABA Finals: Nuggets vs. New York Nets

10. Super Bowl XXII: Broncos vs. Washington 

9. Super Bowl XXXIII: Broncos vs. Atlanta Falcons

8. Super Bowl 50: Broncos vs. Carolina Panthers

7. Super Bowl XXI: Broncos vs. New York Giants

6. 2007 World Series: Rockies vs. Boston Red Sox

It was a tough decision to leave the Rockies’ Fall Classic appearance out of the top five. But such is the split-hair science of sports rankings.

So, your top five …

5. 2021-22 Stanley Cup Final

The matchup: Avalanche vs. Lightning.

It’s the first Stanley Cup Final appearance for the Avs in 21 seasons.

But this talent-laden franchise has been knocking on the door for years.

In the meantime over the previous 19 seasons, the Lighting have been to the Final no less than four times. And it has carried off the Cup in three of those trips.

The two most recent titles have come in the COVID-affected seasons of 2019-20 and 2020-21, so Tampa Bay is out to prove it can win a title the old-fashioned way.

As for the series’ key matchup, it’s a classic overwhelming force-vs.-immovable object scenario.

The Avs were there NHL’s third highest-scoring team during the regular season with an average of 3.80 goals per game.

Meanwhile behind standout goalie Andrei Vasilevskiy, the Bolts were the NHL’s sixth-most stingiest team, allowing only 2.84 goals per contest.

End result: TBD

4. Super Bowl XII

The matchup: Broncos vs. Dallas Cowboys.

This was the Broncos’ first postseason berth in 18 years of existence. And it improbably ended in a trip to the Big Game itself.

That makes the compelling case in itself as Orange Fever literally had the the state painted that very color.

Opposing Denver in New Orleans was none other than America’s (so-called) Team itself.

It was the Orange Crush defense against the Roger Staubach and the NFC’s highest-scoring offense in the first indoor Super Bowl.

End result: The Cowboys’ Doomsday Defense had the final say.

Dallas limited Craig Morton and the Broncos to 11 first downs and forced a whopping eight turnovers en route to a 27-10 win.

It was a tough end to a storybook season.

And it was, of course, the first of four straight Super Bowl defeats for the Orange and Blue.

3. Super Bowl XXXII

The matchup: Broncos vs. Green Bay Packers.

This certainly was a much more compelling matchup in the Rocky Mountain region than nationally as the Packers entered the game as double-digit favorites.

And that was despite Denver’s impressive wild-card run through the AFC playoffs, which included road triumphs in Kansas City and Pittsburgh.

Brett Favre, Reggie White and the defending-champion Pack, though, were favored to repeat.

But a now 37-year-old Elway was the sentimental favorite in San Diego. Could he possibly end Denver’s Big Game futility and snap the NFC’s then 13-year run of dominance?

End result: Elway finished with only 123 passing yards. 

But with MVP Terrell Davis and the Denver ground game punishing the Packers for 179 yards and four TDs, the Broncos prevailed 31-24 in one of the most exciting and competitive games in Super Bowl history.

The sheer joy of the ensuing “This One’s for John” celebration remains unrivaled in Colorado sports history.

2. 2000-01 Stanley Cup Final

The matchup: Avalanche vs. New Jersey Devils.

It’s a modern NHL rarity, but the league’s two best teams that season met in the final.

Both squads finished among the league’s top five in goals for and against.

And with rosters featuring the likes of Joe Sakic, Alexander Mogilny, Ray Bourque, Peter Forsberg, Patrik Elias, Patrick Roy and Martin Brodeur it’s easy to see why.

End result: Fittingly, this evenly-matched series went the distance.

The Avalanche, though, won the final two games to capture their second title in six years.

This one was for Raymond as the Hall of Fame defenseman concluded his hallowed 22-year career by hoisting the Cup for the first time at age 40.

Super Bowl XLVIII (AP / Paul Sancya)

1. Super Bowl XLVIII

The matchup: Broncos vs. Seattle Seahawks.

Peyton Manning’s high-flying 2013 Broncos still rank as the highest-scoring team in NFL history with 606 regular season points.

Seattle, meanwhile, and its Legion of Boom defense led the league that season with only 231 points permitted.

The chess-game matchups and moves seemed endless. 

The other two units were no slouches either. 

Second-year QB Russell Wilson and running back Marshawn Lynch powered the Seahawks while linebacker Danny Trevathan and cornerback Chris Harris Jr. led an underrated Denver defense.

Add in New York/New Jersey serving as the Big Game host for the first time, and this had all the makings of an all-time classic Super Bowl.

End result: Nope … not even close.

This incredible on-paper matchup was no contest.

That was evident from the game’s first offensive play … a high snap that sailed past Manning and into the Denver end zone for a Seahawks safety.

It was stunningly all Seattle from there as well. 

The Seahawks scored the game’s first 36 points, and the league’s top offense never found its footing in 43-8 laugher.

Photo by AP / Chris O'Meara
Ken Pomponio Avatar
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Ken Pomponio

Ken is a fourth-generation Coloradan and career sports journalist with more than 30 years covering the gamut from the preps to the pros. A lifelong Front Range resident and son of 1960s Denver Broncos season-ticket holders, he is a long-time sports betting enthusiast whose insight and passion shine through in his coverage at PlayColorado.

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