Jun 22, 2022; Tampa, Florida, USA; Colorado Avalanche defenseman Bowen Byram (4) celebrates a goal with center Nathan MacKinnon (29) against the Tampa Bay Lightning during game four of the 2022 Stanley Cup Final at Amalie Arena. Mandatory Credit: Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

TAMPA, Fla. — It’s probably too early to say that the dust has settled on the 2022 Stanley Cup champion Colorado Avalanche, but they’ve drunkenly escorted the chalice back to Denver and are currently awaiting their honorary parade. In the meantime, stale champagne and cigar smoke are being scrubbed off the visitor’s locker room of Amalie Arena as the Tampa Bay Lightning try to forget how tantalizingly close they got to becoming the NHL’s first three-peat champs in 40 years.

The end of the season tends to be bittersweet, at least for me. The raising of the Cup is always incredible to see, especially when you get to cover your first Stanley Cup Final wire-to-wire, but as soon as you see equipment flung in the air and the Cup hoisted, you’re in for a life without NHL hockey for a few months. A summer of rest and relaxation is a necessity.

Before we settle in and prepare to cope with another offseason, here are some leftover thoughts and notes from my experience covering the 2022 Stanley Cup Final.

  • I talked about it a bit in a column on Monday, but I truly believe that this Avalanche team is one of the most impressive we’ve seen in the salary cap era and this Stanley Cup run was one of the most dominant of my lifetime. The fact that they only lost four games while lacking great goaltending (what I consider to be the most important ingredient of a champion) is absolutely insane. It just speaks to how talented and deep this roster is, and this team was incredibly fun to watch.
  • The most enjoyable game of the series was by far Game 5. A potential closeout at home in Denver on a Friday night? The energy in Ball Arena was absolutely insane and, even though the result didn’t bring the party that the city desperately wanted, the game was probably the tightest and most entertaining battle of the six.
  • Cale Makar has rightfully gotten plenty of praise and attention during this run — A Norris, Conn Smythe and Stanley Cup? Not a bad couple weeks! — but I think Bowen Byram is becoming a relatively unsung star in his own right on Colorado’s back end. He had a great Cup Final, logging more 5-on-5 ice time than any defenseman in the series (a pretty telling vote of confidence when you’re playing in a series with Makar and Victor Hedman), and the Avs outshot Tampa Bay 79-44 and had a 65% expected goals rate with him on the ice. Byram told me before the series that he wasn’t sure if he would ever play again after the concussion he suffered earlier this season, so to see him bounce back and have this kind of impact as a 21-year-old in his first Cup Final ... pretty special.

Jun 26, 2022; Tampa, Florida, USA; Tampa Bay Lightning center Steven Stamkos (91) reacts after scoring a goal in the first period in game six of the 2022 Stanley Cup Final at Amalie Arena. Mandatory Credit: Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports

  • Being in the crowd at Amalie Arena reminded me that the Lightning need better full-time uniforms. I think their current ones are just so boring and flat. Both their 2020-21 Reverse Retro jerseys and this season’s Stadium Series jerseys are better than the primary look. Also, their alternate logo is better than their primary.
  • I’d give the in-game presentation edge to Tampa Bay in this series. The Lightning brought a little bit more razzle dazzle to the party and had some more unique elements to the pregame intro, and that is vital for pumping juice into the building ahead of big games. On-ice and banner projections. Celebrity cameos from the likes of Tom Brady, Ric Flair, Titus O’Neil, Dick Vitale and more. The Tesla coil. There was a little bit more substance to the theater of it all.
  • Experiencing Colorado fans rock with “All The Small Things” as the anthem for this playoff run was one of the cooler parts of the in-arena experience. Hearing the fans belt it out, even as the music cut out and play resumed, was pretty awesome. I heard rumblings that the Avs were trying to involve (at least some of) Blink-182 if the series went to Game 7 at Ball Arena. Not sure what that would have looked like, but it feels like a bit of a bummer we didn’t get to find out.
  • Massive advantage to Tampa in the airport matchup this series. It feels generous even calling it the Denver Airport considering how far it is from downtown. And why do they make all gates and airlines go through security in the same common area? That place is a nightmare, and that’s before you even read up on the horrifying urban legends surrounding the place.
  • Massive advantage to Denver in the baseball park matchup. Coors Field is gorgeous inside and out, and although I sensed that Colorado fans seem to slightly despise the Rockies right now, they showed up and know how to have a good time and provide a good atmosphere. The Tampa Bay Rays’ Tropicana Field would be more enjoyable as a parking lot.
  • We were lucky enough to have pretty great weather throughout the entire series, but boy is there a difference between 95 degrees in Denver and 95 degrees in Tampa. Hold your nose and try to breathe through a straw stuck into a bowl of clam chowder while your entire body is disgustingly wet. That’s what it feels like being in Florida during the month of June.
  • The Stanley Cup playoffs are always great entertainment and theater, but I think it’s worth reflecting on how special this postseason was, and not only because it was our first fully “normal” playoffs in a few years. This was legitimately one of the best wire-to-wire postseasons that I can remember in a long time. We had plenty of Game 7s, lots of superstar showcases, incredible highlights and storylines, a bunch of scoring and plenty of Mike Smith (not unrelated). It all led to a very intriguing Stanley Cup Final between two deserving teams — and the best team won. It was a pleasure and a blessing to cover every single day.

Stanley Cup Final: Avalanche take the title with 2-1 win over Lightning

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