TAMPA - If you're a neutral observer, you're absolutely loving this series.
If you're invested in either side, you're nervous as heck. And rightfully should be.
The Colorado Avalanche have the chance to make it 3-1 and force an early series victory in front of a packed Ball Arena crowd on Friday. The Tampa Bay Lightning, however, are hoping to build upon an impressive Game 3 effort and tie things up and a force a return trip back to Florida.
If you're not treating every Stanley Cup final game like it's Game 7, you're not trying hard enough.
Here's what to look for ahead of Game 4 on Wednesday:
Use the home crowd to your advantage
So far, home teams have been perfect in the 2022 Cup final, and it has been a pretty distinct advantage throughout the playoffs.
For Tampa, they better hope that sticks.
The Amalie Arena crowd was electric in Game 3 -- better than in Denver? Tough to tell -- and will definitely be again. Anything to get the team pumped up. They were chanting "Vasy, Vasy" minutes before the game began, and Andrei Vasilevskiy answered with a pair of huge pad stops early in the game. They got the goaltending they needed, and they're going to need a lot more of that.
Despite taking a bit of the momentum back with the victory, the Bolts are still down 2-1. They can't let the Avalanche score another early one -- they've scored in the first 10 minutes in all three games -- and have to reverse the script and start the damage earlier. Tampa played a good 40 minutes to open the game, but the Avalanche found their legs in the third and -- had it not been so out of hand to begin with -- caused reasons for concern in Tampa's full 60-minute game abilities.
Tampa needs a great game on the ice, but at least we can count on a big showing from the fanbase.
Avs have to build upon the positives
Despite losing 6-2 in Game 3, the Avalanche held a Corsi-for percentage of 62.22, a better expected goals-for percentage and a 56.41 shots-for percentage at 5-on-5. Tampa took advantage of poor goaltending on Colorado's side, and but the Avs otherwise looked much better at even strength.
So, if Darcy Kuemper was better, the result could have been much different.
The Avalanche have just three losses throughout the playoffs, so it's partly unfamiliar territory. But their ability to just smother opponents at will and force teams to chase has been so dangerous, and they'll look to do that again tonight. The Lightning will be without Brayden Point in Game 4, and Nikita Kucherov and Nick Paul were banged up, too -- can the Avs exploit that?
Colorado needs to treat this like its Game 7, because the opportunity to close the series at home on Friday would be an incredible cap to an incredible season.
They're still in front, and the motivation to keep it that way is second to none. Not that they need any motivation to win a Stanley Cup final game.