After dominating three rounds of playoff competition, the Colorado Avalanche are heading to the Stanley Cup Finals.
The Avs superstars delivered the goods, as Nathan MacKinnon and Cale Makar both make strong arguments for the Conn Smythe. But they also got some great production from depth players, including a series-winning goal from Artturi Lehkonen in Game 4 against the Edmonton Oilers. With their second series playoff sweep, it took the Avalanche just 14 games to face three opponents.
What makes the Av so exciting to watch and so hard for the opponent to beat? Let’s explore the key factors as Colorado moved closer to the Cup.
Yes, Colorado is this good
Let’s start with the facts: By eliminating Edmonton, the Avalanche became only the sixth team in the past 20 seasons to sweep a conference final series. That puts Colorado in elite company — but not necessarily on the fast track to a Stanley Cup victory. Only two of those five teams, the Anaheim Ducks in 2009 and the Chicago Blackhawks in 2010, have won the Cup. The 2003 Ducks and 2019 Boston Bruins lost in Game 7 of their respective Cup Finals. The 2013 Bruins lost in Game 6.
This Colorado team is its own unique animal. We’ve seen them do it all. The Avalanche swept their first-round series against the Nashville Predators without starting goaltender Darcy Kuemper available for nearly half of it. They did the same in a sweep of the Oilers Conference Finals, relying on both Pavel Francouz and Kuemper. The goaltender can make or break a playoff run; Colorado rode whether Kuemper and Francouz were dominant or decent.
It was the same story offensively. When the Avalanche’s front line wasn’t shooting, their second and third units scored timely goals, or Colorado got a key contribution from an unlikely hero (e.g., Darren Helm’s 5.6-second goal to play in Game 6 regulation against St. Louis to punch Colorado’s ticket to the Conference Finals). It’s not luck. This is a team made to win.
Yes, the Avalanche have impressive, quality players. They just aren’t the only reason Colorado is where it is. And that’s what makes the Avalanche so dangerous, the many layers of excellence making them so hard to describe – or defend. Watch the physical effort put in by Andre Burakovsky – already injured once this series – at the start of Game 4 to get the puck out of Colorado’s end. There is such a clear desire in Colorado to achieve its goal.
As Nathan MacKinnon so eloquently put it after Colorado’s 4-2 Game 3 win over the Oilers, the Avalanche are as happy playing “boring, rough” hockey that’s heavy on defense as they are. she scored eight goals.
The Avalanche adapts to all situations
One of the most impressive things about Colorado is the way they pivot. When one area of the team falters, another area arises.
Consider Colorado’s power-play struggles early in the series against Edmonton. The Avalanche had the seventh-best power play in the NHL in the regular season (24%), but through the first three games Colorado was 2-for-14 (14.3%) on the power play, the lowest performance of any the remaining teams in the post-season field. No matter. Instead, the Avalanche dominated 5-on-5 and turned it into the real advantage, scoring 14 even-strength goals and averaging more than five goals per game in the series. And their power play came to life in Game 4, scoring on both chances.
It’s just another example of how the Avalanche let no obstacle slow their progress. If a problem arises, Colorado has a solution. They don’t get bogged down in overthinking or overplaying or straying from the fundamental structure of what makes them a good team. It speaks to the trust Colorado coach Jared Bednar clearly has in his squad – and the trust his players have in each other – that the Avalanche really show no signs of panic no matter what. point a match goes well or badly. Cool heads constantly prevail.
Leaning on a long layoff
The Tampa Bay Lightning had more than a week off between their second-round sweep of the Florida Panthers and the start of the Eastern Conference Finals against the New York Rangers.
There was rust. The Lightning lost Game 1, 6-2. Then they lost game 2, 3-2. The Rangers are fresh off a Game 7 win over the Carolina Hurricanes and have all the momentum on their side. Will these early losses ultimately decide the fate of Tampa Bay?
More importantly for Colorado, are the Avs heading into similar troubled waters?
There could be several days of practice ahead of Colorado before playing another competitive game. It’s not an ideal scenario, but it’s one the Avalanche already have playoff experience in.
Colorado dropped Nashville in Game 4 on May 9. He didn’t open the second-round series against St. Louis for eight days and still won Game 1, 3-2 in overtime. The Avalanche were likely feeling the effects of a layoff, but – as mentioned above – Colorado isn’t bogged down in adversity.
There can also be positives to the waiting game. Players have a chance to recover and recover physically. The more Tampa and New York rage, the closer Nazem Kadri (with a broken thumb) gets to the possibility of appearing in the Cup final. The Avalanche don’t need tough practices or workouts at this point. They have already proven themselves. Perhaps the biggest challenge will be mental and staying ahead of what will be the most nerve-wracking and defining moment for much of Colorado’s roster.
Who to play? Or not to play?
Coaches and players will never admit that they favor one opponent or game over another. But we can do it for them.
Colorado was 2-0 in the regular season against Tampa Bay and New York (one of the wins over the Lightning came in a shootout).
There’s a case to be made for avoiding the Lightning simply because of their playoff resilience — overcoming a 2-0 deficit to start the Eastern Conference Finals would add to that narrative — and the psychological mojo that they possess in going for a hat-trick.
But Rangers have also been quite resilient. The Hurricanes’ shutdown after losing the first two games of their second-round series has (rightly) injected confidence into Rangers. The Blueshirts shoved the Lightning early in the Conference Finals and have barely given up an inch of ground since.
Whichever team emerges from this series will be a formidable opponent for Colorado. And there’s a world-class goalie waiting in the bullpen, whether it’s New York’s Igor Shesterkin or Tampa Bay’s Andrei Vasilevskiy.
As we said, the Avalanche are competent in all categories. All things being equal, Colorado competes well against either team because the Avalanche are adaptable and can leverage different facets of their game as needed.
Maybe it comes down to avoiding the mystique of Tampa Bay, which is why Colorado could — secretly — attract the Rangers. New York’s depth is strong, their goalie is terrific, they’re a physical and solid group defensively. Avs-Rangers would be a fantastic series. And – bonus – would provide us all with a new Cup champion after two years at the top of the Lightning.
Hard blow for Kadri
The more time Colorado has before the next round kicks off, the better for Kadri. He broke his thumb when Evander Kane kicked him off in Game 3 against Edmonton, and Kadri will be fired up to make the first Cup final of his career.
Colorado is also hoping for Kadri’s return. The forward has six goals and 14 points in the playoffs so far and has really shone playing with Mikko Rantanen and Artturi Lehkonen against the Oilers. Andre Burakovsky has slipped into a second line role for the Avalanche with Kadri unavailable, and could be a good replacement there in the future. But if Colorado faces a healthy Tampa Bay or New York team, Kadri’s absence could be a bigger factor.
It’s not just that Kadri is a capable and consistent contributor to the scoresheet. He’s also good in the face-off circle (50.5% in the playoffs), has earned big minutes on the power play (3:11 per game) and of course has a way of getting under n’s skin. ‘anyone. Intangibles are often front and center at this time of year, and Kadri’s can be especially helpful for Colorado.
Jared Bednar hasn’t spoken on a player’s health in the playoffs, so he’s unlikely to provide any updates on Kadri anytime soon. What we know for sure is that Colorado is better with Kadri than without him.