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SOCO Student Media from Colorado State University Pueblo

The Today

SOCO Student Media from Colorado State University Pueblo

The Today

Avalanche carve a tough path to ’22 Stanley Cup

Photo+by+Michelle+Wells
Photo by Michelle Wells

‘Way’ finding

By Michelle Wells

Shock and disbelief fell over the fans, players and those invested in the Colorado Avalanche after game six of the 2021 Stanley Cup playoffs. 

Not again. 

For the third year in a row, the Avs would not make it out of the second round, this time falling to the Las Vegas Golden Knights. This was the year the Avs were supposed to go all the way to the finals. They were the President’s Trophy winners, finished the regular season with 82 points, found every piece of the puzzle, yet still fell short of the ultimate goal.

However, this defeat did not discourage Colorado. With the help of General Manager Joe Sakic, poised Head Coach Jared Bednar, and the desperation and determination from each player to never feel this disappointment again, the Avs were beyond motivated to win no matter what.

Photo by Michelle Wells

“Find A Way” became the team’s mantra throughout the playoffs, and find a way they did … all the way to a historically remarkable year, ending with them reclaiming Lord Stanley’s Cup for the first time since 2001.

 

Defeating the Predators

Capping off the regular season second overall in the NHL and first in the Western Conference, the Avs were set to face Central Division rival the Nashville Predators. While the Preds had eliminated the Avs in the first round during the 2017-2018 playoffs, this was not the focus of this series. 

All eyes were on two players: defensemen Cale Makar from the Avalanche and Roman Josi of the Predators, as both were finalists for the Norris trophy for best defenseman in the NHL. Makar finished the first round with 10 points and Josi ended playoffs with two points.

The series was completely dominated by Colorado. Firing hot out of the gate in game one, the Avs took a 5-0 lead during the first 20 minutes of play, with each goal coming from a different player. This was the first time in NHL history a team has scored a power play, even-strength, and short-handed goal in the first period alone.

The team was not done yet, scoring a power play goal with just over five minutes to go in the second period, courtesy of Captain Gabriel Landeskog. Netting his second goal of the night, star center Nathan MacKinnon closed the scoring for Colorado, and the Avs would go on to win 7-2.

Game two required extra hockey. The Preds were able to force overtime thanks to a stellar performance by third-string goaltender Connor Ingram, who stopped 49 of 51 shots faced. Despite Ingram and Nashville’s best efforts, the overtime game-winning goal came from Makar off a beautiful wrist shot in the high slot.

Much like game one, the Avs posted seven goals in game three, and defeated the Predators to take a 3-0 strangle-hold in the series. 

Game four looked unfamiliar to Avs fans. Colorado trailed for the first time in the playoffs, losing 3-2 early in the third period. 

Nevertheless, Avalanche defenseman Devon Toews was able to tally the equalizer, followed by forward Valeri Nichushkin notching the GWG. Later MacKinnon would bury a power-play goal to ensure the win for his team, and Colorado would go on to sweep the Predators, becoming the first team to do so in Nashville’s franchise history.

 

Blues’ cues

Although the Avalanche had swept the St. Louis Blues in the first round of the 2021 playoffs, the Blues team this year was an entirely different animal.

The Avs opened its series with St. Louis with a crucial win in an overtime thriller, after defenseman Josh Manson faked a slap shot and ripped the puck through the five-hole of Blues goaltender Jordan Binnington. The final score was 3-2.

For the first time since 2001, the Avs fell to the Blues in the postseason during game 2, and would travel to St. Louis tied 1-1 in the series. However the Avs were able to steal both games on the road and headed back to Ball Arena in Denver with a 3-1 series lead. 

Binnington sustained a lower-body injury in game three, and was ruled out for the remainder of the series. He was replaced by back-up goalie Ville Husso. Center Nazem Kadri recorded his first career playoff hat trick in game four to lift the Avs over the Blues 6-3.

It looked as if the Avs were going to advance to the Western Conference Finals for the first time since 2002 in game five, as they held a two goal lead at the start of the third period.

Unfortunately for the home crowd in Denver, the Blues would go on to score three unanswered goals, tying the game. Despite an extraordinary coast-to-coast goal by MacKinnon to once again give his team the lead and pick up the hat trick, Tyler Bozak of St. Louis blasted a slap shot that beat Avs goalie Darcy Kuemper in overtime and force a game six.

Game six started out terrifying for Avs fans. Although the Avs were generating several great scoring chances on Husso, the Blues led 2-1 in the third period. That was until forward J.T. Compher lit the lamp on the advantage, and the Avs were right back in the game.

Appearing as if the game would go into overtime, the Avs had possession of the puck and had one last chance on the rush before the end of regulation. 

Avalanche defenseman Jack Johnson entered the Blues’ zone on side and dropped it back for teammate Logan O’Connor. He then swept the puck rink-wide off the far-side boards, when Darren Helm, former Detroit Red Wing and fantastic acquisition by Sakic, wired a slap shot to put the Avs on top with 5.9 left on the clock.

The Avs would take game six and move on to face the Edmonton Oilers in the Western Conference Finals.

Photo by Michelle Wells

 

Degreasing the oilers

The storyline for this series was two of the best players in the NHL were squaring off against each other in MacKinnon for the Avalanche and Connor McDavid for the Oilers.

Breaking out the brooms once again, the Avs swept the Oilers, in a series that saw these two offensive power houses, put up insane goal totals. Game one alone consisted of 14 total goals, 8 from the Avalanche and 6 from the Oilers.

After sustaining an injury in game one, Kuemper went down the tunnel in the first period and did not return for the rest of the game. Back-up goaltender Pavel Francouz took his place in net and put on a stellar performance in the series, posting a shutout in game two and playing a key role in each of Colorado’s victories.

Kadri sustained an injury in game 3 after a dirty cross-check by Oilers’ forward Evander Kane. The injury turned out to be a broken thumb, which would require Kadri to undergo surgery and miss the remainder of the series. Kane was suspended for one game as a result of the incident.

The Avalanche claimed the Campbell Bowl by winning game four, 6-5 in overtime off a goal by another terrific acquisition Artturi Lehkonen, and claimed the Campbell Bowl and advanced to the Stanley Cup Final for the first time in 21 years.

 

Onward to the championship

At last, the Avalanche had made it to the big show and the competition was unlike any other. The Avs were set to meet back-to-back Stanley Cup champions in the Tampa Bay Lightning. This matchup was expected to be a battle for the ages, and it did not disappoint.

Game one was filled with fast-paced, back-and-forth action. The Avs got on the board first after a shot by forward Mikko Rantanen trickled under the arm of Lightning goaltender Andrei Vasilevskiy and Landeskog was able to put it home. Nichushkin later followed suit, sniping the puck five-hole on Vasilevskiy.

Nic Paul of Tampa Bay later cut the score in half, but the overtime hero in game four of the WCF Lehkonen gave the Avs another two goal lead in the second period off a perfect deflection for a power play goal. However, the Lightning would strike back in the second period, scoring two unanswered goals from Ondrej Palat and Mikhail Sergachev.

Following a scoreless third period, the Avs found themselves in yet another scary overtime situation. It would not last long though, as Compher started the attack for the Avs and fired a shot on net that was saved by Vasilevskiy. Nichushkin came away with the rebound and gave a cross-ice feed right on the tape for Andre Burakovsky, who found the back of the net just over a minute into OT and Ball Arena erupted in elation and relief. The final score was 4-3.

The second game of the SCF saw an Avalanche of goals stymie the Lightning. Five different Avalanche players recorded a goal in this contest, and Makar became just the second defenseman to record both a power play and short-handed goal in a single period.

It was the Lightning’s turn to take control of a game, completing the comeback in game three after trailing, 1-0, early in the first period. Colorado attempted to claw their way back from a 3-1 deficit, bringing themselves back within one after Landeskog’s second goal of the night. It wouldn’t be enough, however, and the Lightning would strike three more times, defeating the Avs, 6-2. All six of Tampa Bay’s goals came from different players.

Aware of what was on the line if the Lightning were to tie the series, the Avalanche played their hearts out in game four and fought their way back from being down 2-1 to force overtime for the sixth time during the postseason.

Key forward Andrew Cogliano, who was picked up from San Jose at the trade deadline, notched the equalizer nearly three minutes into the third period.

Kadri, who was playing in his first game in 18 days since undergoing thumb surgery, scored the game-winning goal in overtime, in peculiar fashion. The puck lodged itself in the netting, and the referees could not see that it was indeed a goal until various players of the Avalanche – including rookie defenseman Bowen Byram – showed the ref where the puck was, and the Colorado bench rushed onto the ice to celebrate a 3-1 lead in the series.

The Avalanche struggled finding their game back home in Denver, and the Lighting took an early lead off a slap shot by forward Jan Rutta. Nichushkin would even things up early in the second period, but Colorado later headed to the penalty kill and Tampa Bay forward Nikita Kucherov gave his team the go-ahead goal once again.

While Cale Makar was able to tie the game at two in the final period, Palat scored a late goal and the Avs were unable to recover. Tampa Bay would go on to win 3-2.

Photos by Michelle Wells

 

The final play

Still maintaining a 3-2 series lead, the Avalanche were not going down without a fight, and game six was one for the books.

Off an unlucky bounce, Lightning Captain Steven Stamkos received a feed from Kucherov and slipped the puck through the five-hole of Kuemper to put the Bolts on top, 1-0. The Avs did not hang their heads on this mishap, and continued to throw pucks on Vasilevskiy.

Eventually in the second period, MacKinnon was able to capitalize on a delayed penalty against Tampa Bay and beat Vasilevskiy, blocker side. Also in the second period, the Avs generated a rush and Manson was able to feed the puck to MacKinnon and a bouncing puck was corralled by Lehkonen, who ripped it far-side top-shelf and gave the Avs the lead.

In a last-ditch effort to win, the Lightning pulled their goalie to get an extra attacker on the ice. But the Avalanche were unphased and when the clock ran out, they rejoiced, for they knew they would be bringing Lord Stanley’s cup back to Denver.

Makar was awarded the Conn Smythe Trophy for MVP of the playoffs.

This was Jared Bednar’s first Stanley Cup as a head coach, and Joe Sakic’s first as a general manager.

The Stanley Cup parade is this Thursday, June 30th in downtown Denver. The pre-rally begins at 9 a.m. followed by the parade at 10 a.m.. From there, the rally will take place.

Colorado Avalanche Stanley Cup Parade 

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