After dominating the third round of the post-season competition, the Colorado Avalanche is heading to the Stanley Cup Final.
The AVS Superstars have delivered, as both Nathan McKinnon and Black Capricorn are making strong cases for Con Smith. But he has also had excellent output from in-depth players, including Arturi Leconen’s series-winning goal in Game 4 against the Edmonton Oilers. The avalanche took just 14 games to beat three rivals, sweeping their second series later in the season.
What’s so exciting about watching AVS – and so hard to beat an opponent? Let’s take a look at the key elements as we approach the Colorado Cup.
Yes it is Colorado He Good
Let’s start with the facts: As Edmonton finished, Avalanche became the sixth team in the last 20 seasons to win the conference final. This puts Colorado in highbrow company – but Stanley doesn’t have to be on the fast track to win the cup. 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 Bruins lost in Game 6 of 2013.
This Colorado team is a unique animal in itself. We have seen them do all this. Avalanche started their first-round series against Nashville Predators without goaltender Darcy Cooper, available for almost half. He did the same in the Oilers’ Conference Final Sweep, which originally relied on Pavel Francois as the cooper. Goals can lead to a playoff run or break; Colorado rolled over whether Kumper and Francois were dominant or decent.
Offensive was the same story. When the avalanche top line wasn’t firing, his second and third units scored in time, or Colorado got significant contributions from some potential heroes (for example, the conference final with the goal of punching Colorado’s ticket to regulate Game 6 against St. Darren Helm). That’s not luck. It’s a team built to win.
Yes, Avalanche has impressive, star-rated players. That’s not the only reason where Colorado is. And that’s what makes avalanches so dangerous, so many levels of subtlety that it’s hard to describe – or defend. Check out Andre Burakowski’s physical effort – due to an injury before the series – to knock out Colorado at the start of Game 4. There is such a clear desire to achieve your goal in Colorado.
Nathan McKinnon has made this clear after a 4-2 game 3 victory over the Oilers of Colorado, avalanches are happy to play “boring and rough” hockey which is heavy for defense, as they are scoring eight goals.
Avalanches can adapt to any situation
One of the most impressive things about Colorado is how they pivot. When one area of the team decreases, another area occurs.
Consider Colorado’s power-play struggles at the start of the series against Edmonton. Avalanche owned the NHL’s seventh-best power play during the regular season (24%), but in the first three games, the Colorado power play was 2-14 (14.3%), the lowest of any team. Output land after harvest. No problem. Instead Avalanche dominated the 5-on-5 and took real advantage by scoring 14 equal-strength goals and more than five goals in each game in the series. And his power play came alive in Game 4, scoring goals on both occasions.
This is another example of how an avalanche did not slow down its progress due to any obstacles. If problems arise, Colorado has a solution. They don’t get caught up in over-thinking or over-playing or running away from the infrastructure that makes them a great team. This belief clearly speaks to Colorado coach Jared Bedner’s own group – and the confidence of their players in each other – that avalanches really show no sign of panic, no matter how good or bad the game is. The quiet head constantly dominates.
The Tampa Bay Lightning had more than a week to go before the Florida Panthers’ second-round sweep and the Eastern Conference final against the New York Rangers began.
War broke out. Lightning lost Game 1, 6-2. They then lost Game 2, 3-2. The Game 7 victory over the Carolina Hurricanes gave the Rangers practice and all the momentum was on their side. Will this early loss ultimately determine the future of Tampa Bay?
Most importantly for Colorado, are the AVs going to the same annoying waters?
It can take several days of practice before playing another competitive game for Colorado. This is not a perfect situation, but an avalanche has already been experienced later this season.
Colorado beat Nashville in Game 4 on May 9. It did not start the second round series against St. Louis for eight days and still won the game 1, 3-2 in overtime. The avalanche had the effect of a lockout, but – as mentioned above – Colorado was not adversely affected.
There can also be positive aspects to the waiting game. Players have the opportunity to recover and recover physically. The longer Tampa and New York rage, the closer Nazem Qadri (broken thumb) comes to make a possible appearance in the Cup final. Avalanches do not require strenuous practice or exercise at this level. They have already proved their worth. Perhaps the biggest challenge will be mental and staying sharp ahead of what will be the most stressful, career-defining moment for a large group of Colorado rosters.
Who wants to play To play or not?
Coaches and players will never agree to side with one opponent or over another. But we can do it for them.
The regular season was 2-0 against both Colorado Tampa Bay and New York (a win against the Lightning came in a shootout).
Given how flexible they were in the playoffs, it could be argued that Lightning’s avoidance – overcoming a 2-0 deficit to start the Eastern Conference finals – would add to that narrative – and they have the psychological Mojo three-peat.
But the Rangers are also very flexible. Closing the Hurricanes after losing the first two games of their second-round series has given the Rangers confidence. The Blue Shirts pushed the Lightning early in the conference finals and have not dropped an inch since.
The team that exits the series will be a strong contender for Colorado. And the world-class goalkeeper stops at the crease in New York’s Igor Shesterkin or Tampa Bay’s Andrei Vasilyevsky.
As we said, avalanches are efficient in every category. All things being equal, Colorado fits well with any team because avalanches are friendly and can pull from different aspects of their game as needed.
Maybe it comes down to getting out of the mystery of Tampa Bay, which is why Colorado – secretly – is pulling for the Rangers. New York has a strong room, a great goal, it’s a physical group, and it’s defensively solid. AVS-Rangers would be a great series. And – bonus – two years of Lightning’s leadership will give us all a new Cup of Champions.
Hard break for the cadre
The longer Colorado lasts before the next round starts, the better for Cadre. Avender Kane’s participation in Game 3 against Edmonton broke his thumb and will inspire Qadri to appear in the first Cup final of his career.
Qadri is also expected to return to Colorado. The forward has scored six goals and 14 points in the playoffs so far, and he really shined when he played against Eulers with Miko Rentanen and Arturi Leconen. Andre Burakowski has slipped into the second line role for an avalanche where Qadri is unavailable and could be a good replacement for moving forward. But if Colorado faces a completely healthy Tampa Bay or New York lineup, Qadri’s absence could be a big factor.
Qadri is not a competent, consistent contributor to the scoresheet. He’s also good in the faceoff circle (50.5 percent in the post season), he got big minutes on power play (3:11 per game) and there’s definitely a way to get under someone’s skin. Abstract things often come to the fore at this time of year and Qadri can be especially useful for Colorado.
Avalanche coach Jared Bednar has not spoken about the nature of any of the players since the season, so it is unlikely they will provide an update on Qadri soon. We know for sure that Colorado with Cadre is better off without him.