After dominating three rounds of post-season competition, the Colorado Avalanche are headed to the Stanley Cup Final.
The Avs stars have had their show, with Nathan MacKinnon and Cale Makar making strong cases for Conn Smythe. But they’ve also had impressive productions from deep players, including Artturi Lehkonen’s series-winning goal in Game 4 against Edmonton Oilers. With its second series sweep of the post-season, it took the avalanche just 14 games to beat three opponents.
What makes watching Avs so exciting – and so hard for an opponent to defeat? Let’s explore the key factors as Colorado moved one step closer to the trophy.
Yes, Colorado who – which Good
Let’s start with the facts: In the Edmonton eradication, Avalanche became only the sixth team in the last 20 seasons to sweep a conference final series. That puts Colorado in elite company—but not necessarily on the fast track to winning the Stanley Cup. Only two of those five teams – the 2009 Anaheim Ducks and the 2010 Chicago Blackhawks – went on to lift the trophy. The 2003 champions Ducks and 2019 Boston Bruins lost in Game Seven of their Cup Final. 2013 Bruins lost in Game 6.
This Colorado team is a unique animal. We’ve seen them do it all. The avalanche swept the first-round series against the Nashville Predators without base guard Darcy Comber available for nearly half of it. They did the same in the Conference Finals sweep of the oil, relying as seamlessly on Pavel Francus as they do with the Kuemper. Goal guiding can make or break a playoff round; Colorado rolled along whether Comber and Francoz were dominant or fit.
It was the same aggressive story. When the top collapse streak wasn’t firing, its second and third units scored goals in time, or Colorado got a key contribution from an unexpected champion (for example, Darren Helm’s goal 5.6 seconds before the end of Game 6 against St.Louis punch-ticket Colorado to the Conference Finals). This is not luck. This is a team built to win.
Yes, Avalanche has great, quality players. They’re not the only reason Colorado is where it is. This is what makes an avalanche so dangerous, that its many layers of distinction make it hard to describe – or defend. Look at the physical effort Andre Burakovsky – who was actually injured once in the series – early in Game 4 to get the disc out of the Colorado end. There is a clear desire in Colorado to reach its goal.
As Nathan McKinnon said so eloquently after Colorado’s 4-2 win in Game Three against the Oilers, Avalanche is delighted to play “boring and gross” hockey heavy in defense and also scores eight goals.
The avalanche can adapt to any situation
One of the most impressive things about Colorado is how pivoted it is. When one area of the team gets stuck, another area comes along.
Consider Colorado’s power struggles early in the series against Edmonton. Avalanche had the seventh-best strength game in the NHL in the regular season (24%) but by its first three games, Colorado was 2 for 14 (14.3%) on strength play, the lowest production by any team remaining in the postseason field. Did not matter. Avalanche just dominated in 5-on-5 instead and made that real advantage, pumping out 14 equally powerful goals and averaging over five goals per game in the series. Their strength was shown in Game 4, and they scored on both occasions.
It’s just another example of how the avalanche left no barrier to slow their progress. If a problem arises, Colorado has a solution. They don’t get caught up in overthinking, overplaying, or straying from the basic structure of what makes a good team. It speaks to the confidence that Colorado coach Jared Bednar has in his group – and the confidence his players have in each other – that the avalanche shows no sign of panic no matter how good or poor the game is. Cold heads are constantly prevailing.
Tends to a long period of layoffs
The Tampa Bay Lightning had a hold over a week between its second-round sweep of the Florida Panthers and the start of the Eastern Conference Finals against the New York Rangers.
There was rust. Lightning lost game 1, 6-2. Then they lost the match 2, 3-2. The Rangers came in for a Game Seven victory over the Carolina Hurricanes and they had 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 toward similarly turbulent waters?
There may be several days of training against Colorado before you play another competitive game. It’s not a perfect scenario, but it’s one in which an avalanche has already experienced a post-season experience.
Colorado gave up Nashville in Game 4 on May 9. The second-round series did not open against St. Louis for eight days, and went on to match 1, 3-2 in overtime. The effects of the demobilization may have been felt by the avalanche, but – as noted above – Colorado is not caught up in adversity.
There can also be positives in the waiting game. Players have a chance to recover and recover physically. The longer Tampa and New York rage, the closer Nazem Kadiri (who came out with a broken thumb) comes close to a potential cup final appearance. Avalanche doesn’t require hard practice or training at this point. They have already proven their strength. Perhaps the biggest challenge is the mental challenge, and staying dexterous ahead of what will be the most nerve-wracking and career-defining moment for a large group of Colorado roster.
Who is playing? or not play?
Coaches and players will never decide to favor one opponent or match over another. But we can do it for them.
Colorado was 2-0 in the regular season against both Tampa Bay and New York (one of the victories over Lightning came on penalties).
There’s an argument to be made to avoid lightning just for how resilient they are in the playoffs – overcoming a 2-0 deficit to start the Eastern Conference Finals would add to that narrative – and the psychological mood they have in going for three peat.
But the Rangers were also very resilient. Ending the Hurricanes after losing their first two matches in the second round (rightfully) instilled confidence in the Rangers. The Blueshirts pushed the Lightning team early in the conference finals, and they’ve barely given up an inch of ground since.
Whatever team gets out of this series will be a formidable opponent for Colorado. And there’s a world-class goalkeeper waiting at the tuck regardless, in New York’s Igor Shesterkin or Tampa Bay’s Andrei Vasilevsky.
Like we said, avalanche is masterful in every category. All things being equal, the Colorado team competes well against either team because the avalanche is adaptable and can pull out from different aspects of their game as required.
Maybe it’s about avoiding the magic of Tampa Bay, which is why Colorado can – secretly – be a fan of the Rangers. The depth of New York is strong, the pursuit of goal is great, it’s a physical and strong defensive group. Avs-Rangers is going to be a great series. And – a bonus – it will give us all a new Cup Champion after two years as Lightning.
A difficult break for my destiny
The longer I stay in Colorado before the next round kicks off, the better for my destiny. He broke his thumb when Evander Kane stepped up to him in Game Three against Edmonton, and Kadri will be excited to take part in the first Cup Final of his career.
Colorado is equally hopeful of Kadri’s return. The striker has scored six goals and 14 points in the playoffs so far and has been really in sparkle playing with Mikko Rantanen and Arturi Likonen against the Oilers. Andrei Burakovsky has slipped into the role of Avalanche’s second line with Kadri unavailable, and he could be a good alternative out there in the future. But if Colorado faces an entire healthy lineup in Tampa Bay or New York, Qadri’s absence may be an even bigger factor.
It’s not just that Kadri is a capable and consistent contributor to the results sheet. He’s also good on the showdown circuit (50.5% in the post-season), he’s got big minutes of solid play (3:11 per game) and of course he has a way to beat anyone. Intangibles often come to the fore at this time of year, and Kadri can be especially useful for Colorado.
Jared Bednar has not been responsive about any player’s health in the post-season, so he is not likely to provide updates on Kadri anytime soon. What we know for sure is that Colorado with Kadri is better than without him.