After dominating three rounds of their postseason competition, the Colorado Avalanche are heading into the Stanley Cup Finals.
The Avs superstars delivered as Nathan MacKinnon and Cale Makar both make strong arguments for Conn Smythe. But they’ve had an excellent performance from deep players as well, including a series-winning goal by Artturi Lehkonen in Game 4 against the Edmonton Oilers. With their second consecutive win of the postseason, it took the Avalanche just 14 games to defeat three opponents.
What makes the Avs so exciting to watch – and so difficult for opponents to defeat? As Colorado is one step closer to the cup, let’s examine the key factors.
Yes, Colorado is the Well
Let’s start with the facts: The elimination of Edmonton made the Avalanche only the sixth team in the last 20 seasons to win a Conference Finals series. That puts Colorado in elite company—but not necessarily on the fast track to a Stanley Cup win. Only two of those five teams—the 2009 Anaheim Ducks and the 2010 Chicago Blackhawks—won the trophy. 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 a unique beast. We’ve seen them do everything. The Avalanche swept their first-round series against the Nashville Predators without starting goaltender Darcy Kuemper being available for nearly half of it. They did the same thing in a conference final against the Oilers, relying on Pavel Francouz as seamlessly as they did Kuemper. Goaltenders can make or break a playoff run; Colorado rolled with whether Kuemper and Francouz were dominant or decent.
It was the same story offensively. When the Avalanche’s top line didn’t fire, their second and third units scored in time, or Colorado made a crucial contribution from an unlikely hero (for example, Darren Helm’s goal with 5.6 seconds left in Game 6 vs. St. Louis to). punch Colorado’s ticket to the conference finals). That’s not luck. This is a team built to win.
Yes, the Avalanche have impressive star-quality players. They’re just not the only reason Colorado is where it is. And that’s what makes the Avalanche so dangerous, the many levels of excellence that make it so hard to describe — or defend. Check out the physical exertion of Andre Burakovsky, who has been injured once before in the series, early in Game 4 to get the puck out of Colorado’s end. There is such a clear desire in Colorado to achieve his goal.
As Nathan MacKinnon so eloquently put it after Colorado’s 4-2 Game 3 win over the Oilers, the Avalanche enjoy playing “boring and gross” defensive-heavy hockey as much as they enjoy scoring eight goals.
The Avalanche adapts to every situation
One of the most impressive things about Colorado is how they rotate. When one area of the team falters, another area comes through.
Think back to Colorado’s power play struggles early in the series against Edmonton. The Avalanche possessed the NHL’s seventh-best power play in the regular season (24%), but in the first three games Colorado was 2-to-14 (14.3%) on power play, the lowest performance of any remaining team in the NHL postseason field . Doesn’t matter. The Avalanche instead only dominated 5-on-5 and turned that into a real advantage, scoring 14 consistently strong goals and averaging over five goals per game in the streak. And their power play came alive in Game 4, scoring on both occasions.
It’s just another example of how the Avalanche don’t let obstacles stop them. When a problem arises, Colorado has a solution. They don’t get bogged down in thinking or playing too much, or straying from the basic structure that makes them a good team. It speaks to the confidence Colorado coach Jared Bednar clearly has in his group — and the confidence his players have in each other — that the Avalanche genuinely show no signs of panic, no matter how good or bad a game is going. Cool heads prevail throughout.
Leans into a long layoff
The Tampa Bay Lightning had more than a week between their second-round win over the Florida Panthers and the start of the Eastern Conference Finals against the New York Rangers.
Rust was present. The Lightning lost Game 1, 6-2. Then they lost Game 2, 3-2. The Rangers came hot after a Game 7 win over the Carolina Hurricanes and 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 into similarly choppy waters?
Colorado could face several days of practice before playing another competitive game. It’s not an ideal scenario, but it’s one the Avalanche have already had experience in this postseason.
Colorado threw Nashville overboard in Game 4 on May 9th. It didn’t open the second-round series against St. Louis for eight days and still won Game 1, 3-2 in overtime. The Avalanche likely felt the effects of a layoff, but — as mentioned above — Colorado doesn’t let adversity get bogged down.
The waiting game can also be positive. Players have the opportunity to physically recover and recover. As Tampa and New York rage, Nazem Kadri (with a broken thumb out) is getting closer to a potential cup final. The Avalanche doesn’t need any hard exercise or workouts at this point. They have already proven their skills. Perhaps the greatest challenge will be mental, coming ahead of the most nerve-wracking, career-defining moment for a large portion of the Colorado roster.
Who should play? Or not play?
Coaches and players will never admit to choosing one opponent or one matchup over another. But we can do it for you.
Colorado was 2-0 in the regular season against both Tampa Bay and New York (one of the wins against the Lightning came in a shootout).
There’s an argument for avoiding the Blitz just because they’ve been so resilient in the playoffs — overcoming a 2-0 deficit to start the Eastern Conference Finals would add to that narrative — and the psychological mojo they possess go for a three-peat.
But Rangers were also pretty resilient. Beating the Hurricanes after losing their first two games in the second round has (rightly) given Rangers confidence. The Blueshirts shoved the Lightning around early in the conference finals and have barely lost an inch of ground since.
Whichever team emerges from this series will be a formidable opponent for Colorado. And yet, with Igor Shesterkin from New York or Andrei Vasilevskiy from Tampa Bay, a world-class goalkeeper is waiting in the circle.
As I said, the Avalanche dominate every category. All things being equal, Colorado can do well against either team as the Avalanche are adaptable and able to draw from different facets of their game as needed.
Perhaps it comes down to avoiding Tampa Bay’s mystique, which is why Colorado could — secretly — draw for the Rangers. New York’s depth is strong, their goalkeeping is terrific, they’re a physical group and solid defensively. Avs-Rangers would be a fantastic series. And – bonus – would give us all a new cup champion after two years of being on top for Lightning.
Hard break for Kadri
The longer Colorado has before the next round starts, the better off Kadri will be. Broke his thumb when Evander Kane boarded it in Game 3 against Edmonton and Kadri will be motivated to take part in the first cup final of his career.
Colorado will be just as hopeful of Kadri coming back. The forward has six goals and 14 points in the playoffs so far and excelled with Mikko Rantanen and Artturi Lehkonen against the Oilers. Andre Burakovsky has slipped into a second-line role for the Avalanche due to Kadri’s absence and could be a good replacement there in the future. But if Colorado faces a completely healthy lineup in Tampa Bay or New York, Kadri’s absence could be a bigger factor.
It’s not just that Kadri is a capable, consistent contributor to the scorer’s chart. He’s also good on the faceoff circle (50.5% in the postseason), has earned big minutes on the power play (3:11 per game), and of course has a way of getting under everyone’s skin. Intangibles often take center stage this time of year, and Kadri’s can be especially helpful for Colorado.
Jared Bednar has not commented on any player’s health in the post-season, so it’s unlikely he’ll be providing any updates on Kadri any time soon. What we do know for sure is that Colorado is better with Kadri than without him.