Axios Sports

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June 15, 2022

👋 Good morning! We've been waiting 33 years for a Stanley Cup Final matchup this good. It's finally here.

Today's word count: 1,298 words (5 minutes).

Let's sports...

1 big thing: ⚽️ The field is set for Qatar

Data: FIFA; Table: Thomas Oide/Axios
Data: FIFA; Table: Thomas Oide/Axios

Costa Rica held off New Zealand, 1-0, on Tuesday to secure the 32nd and final spot in the 2022 World Cup.

The backdrop: This week's qualifiers in Doha, Qatar, provided a glimpse of the venues that will be used in November.

Kicks off in 159 days...

2. 🏒 The Avalanche are a scoring juggernaut

Illustration of the Avalanche logo casting a shadow over a hockey goal
Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

The Avalanche are back in the Stanley Cup Final for the first time since 2001, Axios' Jeff Tracy writes.

Why it matters: With a win, this electrifying squad that has swept two of three playoff series could establish itself as one of the best teams ever.

  • After compiling the best record in the West (56-19-7), the Avs have gone 12-2 in the playoffs, the second-best winning percentage entering the Final since the 1979 merger (1983 Oilers, 11-1).
  • If they win the title, they'll become just the fourth team in NHL history with 72 wins in a season, joining the 1976-77 Canadiens, 1983-84 Oilers and 1995-96 Red Wings.

By the numbers: The Avalanche have scored at a historic clip this postseason, with their 4.64 goals per game the most since 1988.

  • They scored 22 goals last round against the Oilers, the most in a four-game series this century, and scored 21 in round one against the Predators.
  • Their +25 goal differential (65-40) is more than twice that of the second-place Lightning (+11).

The roster: Star center Nazem Kadri is questionable after breaking his thumb last series, but Colorado has the depth to manage without him.

  • Goalies: Darcy Kuemper and Pavel Francouz have shared playoff duties with Kuemper suffering multiple injuries, but both are healthy now and could each see time in the Final.
  • Offense: Center Nathan MacKinnon is one of the NHL's best offensive weapons, with 11 playoff goals (second-most) including this coast-to-coast gem that showed off his blazing speed.
  • Defense: Colorado likes to involve the defense on offense, and Cale Makar is happy to oblige. He has a team-leading 22 points, and Wayne Gretzky recently compared the 23-year-old to the great Bobby Orr.

The big picture: This is Colorado's 27th playoff appearance since joining the league as the Quebec Nordiques in 1979. They're 2-0 in the Stanley Cup Final (1996, 2001).

  • Preseason title odds: +625, best in the league
  • Current title odds: -175

Pregame reading:

3. 🏒 The Lightning are on the verge of history

Illustration of the Tampa Bay Lightning logo with three lightning bolts
Illustration: Brendan Lynch/Axios

The Lightning are four wins away from hoisting the Stanley Cup for the third consecutive season, Jeff writes.

Why it matters: If they win the title, they'll join the Maple Leafs, Canadiens and Islanders as the only NHL franchises to three-peat.

  • Tampa's three-peat would be arguably the most impressive of the bunch, as they've had to contend with the team-building constraints of the salary cap era (since 2005).
  • "If they were to pull this off and win three in a row, to me that's almost like winning five in a row in this era," Ducks GM Pat Verbeek told the LA Times.

State of play: The Lightning have won 11 straight playoff series since their shocking first-round sweep in 2019, the third-longest streak in NHL history.

  • Unlike the last two years when they led nearly every step of the way, this run has been marked by comebacks, with Tampa erasing series deficits against both Toronto and New York.
  • It's that grit and determination that has defined this franchise for the past three years. Now they're on the cusp of immortality.

Roster: Injured center Brayden Point and his league-leading 30 playoff goals since 2020 are likely to return by Game 2 at the latest. The rest:

  • Goalie: Andrei Vasilevskiy has allowed just 1.7 goals per game in his last 10 games, and remains one of the NHL's most clutch players. He's ready for the moment.
  • Offense: Center and captain Steven Stamkos has been in Tampa his entire career, and at 32 he's set a new playoff career-high with nine goals. Winger Nikita Kucherov leads the team with 23 playoff points.
  • Defense: Victor Hedman is Tampa's answer to Cale Makar: The 2018 Norris Trophy winner (best defenseman) has been a finalist for the award each of the past six years.

The big picture: This is Tampa's 14th playoff appearance since joining the league in 1992. They're 3-1 in the Stanley Cup Final (wins in 2004, 2020 and 2021; loss in 2015).

  • Preseason title odds: +700, trailing only the Avalanche
  • Current title odds: +150

Pregame reading:

4. ⚡️ Lightning round

Braves high-fiving
Photo: Greg Fiume/Getty Images

⚾️ 13 straight: The Braves beat the Nationals, 10-4, on Tuesday for their 13th straight win, the longest winning streak by a defending World Series champion since the 1954 Yankees.

🇺🇦 Honoring Klitschko: Vitali Klitschko, the Hall of Fame boxer and mayor of Kyiv, will receive the Arthur Ashe Courage Award at the 2022 ESPYS next month.

🍕 Pizza wars: Little Caesars is the NFL's new official pizza sponsor, replacing Pizza Hut, which replaced Papa John's four years ago.

🏀 Hoops on the diamond: Wisconsin men's and women's basketball will play a November doubleheader at American Family Field, home of the Brewers.

5. 🇺🇸 Photos across America

Miles Mikolas
Photo: Joe Puetz/Getty Images

ST. LOUIS — Cardinals starter Miles Mikolas fell one strike short of a no-hitter against the Pirates on Tuesday night, giving up a double with two outs in the ninth.

  • What he's saying: "I'm happy — but deep down it kind of stinks," said Mikolas. Way to keep it real. Exactly how I'd feel.
Josh Allen
Photo: Joshua Bessex/Getty Images

ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. — Mandatory minicamp began Tuesday for most NFL teams, including the Bills. Hey there, Josh.

Putting green
Photo: Patrick Smith/Getty Images

BROOKLINE, Mass. — The Country Club, host of this week's U.S. Open, was founded in 1882, making it one of America's oldest golf courses.

6. 🌍 Photos around the world

Hungary celebrating
Photo: James Baylis/AMA/Getty Images

WOLVERHAMPTON, England — England suffered its worst home loss since 1928 with a 4-0 defeat to Hungary on Tuesday.

  • State of play: England is winless in Nations League play. Hungary sits atop the group, ahead of Germany and Italy.
Paralympic swimmers
Photo: Octavio Passos/Getty Images

FUNCHAL, Portugal — In need of some inspiration this week? Look no further than the World Para Swimming Championships, where excuses don't exist.

Mountain biking
Photo: JFK/AFP via Getty Images

LEONGANG, Austria — The Mountain Bike World Cup looks awesome.

7. 📺 Watchlist: Game 1 in Denver

Stanley Cup
Photo: Patrick Smith/Getty Images

The Stanley Cup Final begins tonight in Denver (8pm ET, ABC), where the average ticket is going for $1,061.

  • Of note: That's the highest Game 1 ticket price since 2010, per Vivid Seats.
  • Lines: Spread: COL -1.5 | O/U: 6 | Money: COL -152, TB +126 (via FanDuel)

More to watch:

  • 📺 30 for 30: "Dream On" (8pm, ESPN) ... Documentary about the 1996 U.S. women's basketball team, whose success helped birth the WNBA.
  • ⚾️ MLB: Brewers at Mets (7pm, FS1) ... Corbin Burnes (3-4, 2.48 ERA) vs. David Peterson (3-0, 3.00).
  • ⚽️ MLS: Revolution vs. Orlando (7:30pm, ESPN+)

8. 🎯 The Ocho: Plunger darts

Animated GIF - Find & Share on GIPHY
Source: Giphy

Bullseye.

9. 🎾 Tennis trivia

Serena Williams
Serena Williams at Wimbledon in 2016. Photo: Justin Tallis/AFP via Getty Images

Serena Williams will make her return at Wimbledon, where she's won seven singles titles in the Open Era.

  • Question: Who's the only woman with more?
  • Hint: She won nine.

Answer at the bottom.

10. ⛳️ 1 historic thing: The Ouimet house

Francis Ouimet
Francis Ouimet in 1913. Photo: Library of Congress

Francis Ouimet, an amateur who improbably won the 1913 U.S. Open at The Country Club, grew up across the street. Now, his home will be given back to the course that made him famous.

  • Club members bought and renovated the property, and "a tour of the 1,550-square-foot, six-room Ouimet house these days is like stepping back in time," writes NYT's Bill Pennington.
  • "Just inside the first-floor entry is an old, preserved wooden wall telephone, the kind with a crank on the side. It is rigged so visitors can lift the receiver and hear a recording of Ouimet."

🍿 Go deeper: The 2005 Disney film, "The Greatest Game Ever Played," tells the story of Ouimet's 1913 victory. Awesome movie to watch ahead of this week's U.S. Open.

Talk tomorrow,

Kendall "Hockey heaven" Baker

Trivia answer: Martina Navratilova

🙏 Thanks for reading. Follow us on Twitter: @kendallbaker and @jeffreytracy. Tell your friends to sign up.