Why the Stanley Cup Final-bound Avalanche must be seen to be believed

NHL

After dominating three rounds of their postseason competitors, the Colorado Avalanche are headed to the Stanley Cup Remaining.

The Avs’ superstars have delivered, as Nathan MacKinnon and Cale Makar are each making robust instances for the Conn Smythe. However they’ve gotten excellent manufacturing from depth gamers as effectively, together with a series-winning purpose from Artturi Lehkonen in Sport 4 in opposition to the Edmonton Oilers. With their second collection sweep of the postseason, it is taken the Avalanche solely 14 video games to roll by three opponents.

What makes the Avs so thrilling to look at — and so tough for the opposition to defeat? Let’s discover the important thing components as Colorado has moved one step nearer to the Cup.

Sure, Colorado is that good

Let’s begin with the information: In eliminating Edmonton, the Avalanche grew to become simply the sixth group within the final 20 seasons to comb a convention closing collection. That locations Colorado in elite firm — however not essentially on the quick observe to a Stanley Cup win. Solely two of these 5 groups — the 2009 Anaheim Ducks and 2010 Chicago Blackhawks — went on to hoist the Cup. The 2003 Geese and 2019 Boston Bruins misplaced in Sport 7 of their respective Cup Remaining. The 2013 Bruins misplaced in Sport 6.

This Colorado group is its personal distinctive animal. We have seen them do all of it. The Avalanche swept their first-round collection in opposition to the Nashville Predators with out beginning goaltender Darcy Kuemper obtainable for nearly half of it. They did the identical in a convention finals sweep of the Oilers, relying as seamlessly on Pavel Francouz as they might Kuemper. Goaltending could make or break a playoff run; Colorado rolled alongside whether or not Kuemper and Francouz have been dominant or first rate.

It was the identical story offensively. When the Avalanche’s prime line wasn’t firing, its second and third items scored well timed objectives, or Colorado received a key contribution from some unlikely hero (for instance, Darren Helm‘s purpose with 5.6 seconds left in regulation of Sport 6 in opposition to St. Louis to punch Colorado’s ticket to the convention finals). That is not luck. That is a group constructed to win.

Sure, the Avalanche have spectacular, star-quality gamers. They simply aren’t the one purpose Colorado is the place it’s. And that is what makes the Avalanche so harmful, the numerous layers of excellence making them so arduous to explain — or defend. Have a look at the bodily effort put in by Andre Burakovsky — already injured as soon as this collection — early in Sport 4 to get the puck out of Colorado’s finish. There’s such a transparent want in Colorado to achieve its purpose.

As Nathan MacKinnon so eloquently put it after Colorado’s 4-2 Sport 3 win over the Oilers, the Avalanche are as pleased to play “boring and gross” hockey that is defense-heavy as they’re pumping in eight objectives.


The Avalanche can adapt to any scenario

Some of the spectacular issues about Colorado is how they pivot. When one space of the group falters, one other space comes by.

Take into account Colorado’s power-play struggles early within the collection in opposition to Edmonton. The Avalanche owned the NHL’s seventh-best energy play within the common season (24%) however by the primary three video games, Colorado was 2-for-14 (14.3%) on the ability play, the bottom output by any group remaining within the postseason area. Irrespective of. The Avalanche simply dominated at 5-on-5 as a substitute and made that the actual benefit, pumping in 14 even-strength objectives and averaging over 5 objectives per sport within the collection. And their energy play got here alive in Sport 4, scoring on each alternatives.

It is simply one other instance of how the Avalanche have not let any roadblock sluggish their progress. If an issue arises, Colorado has an answer. They do not get slowed down in overthinking or overplaying or getting away from the basic construction of what makes them a superb group. It speaks to the belief Colorado coach Jared Bednar clearly has in his group — and the boldness his gamers have in each other — that the Avalanche actually do not present any signal of panic irrespective of how effectively or poorly a sport goes. Cool heads constantly prevail.


Leaning into a protracted layoff

The Tampa Bay Lightning had greater than per week off between their second-round sweep of the Florida Panthers and the beginning of the Jap Convention finals in opposition to the New York Rangers.

There was rust. The Lightning misplaced Sport 1, 6-2. Then they misplaced Sport 2, 3-2. The Rangers got here in scorching off a Sport 7 victory over the Carolina Hurricanes and had all of the momentum on their aspect. Will these early losses finally resolve Tampa Bay’s destiny?

Extra importantly for Colorado, are the Avs headed for equally troubled waters?

There may very well be a number of days of observe forward for Colorado earlier than it performs one other aggressive sport. It isn’t a perfect state of affairs, nevertheless it’s one during which the Avalanche have already got expertise this postseason.

Colorado jettisoned Nashville in Sport 4 on Could 9. It did not open the second-round collection in opposition to St. Louis for eight days, and nonetheless took Sport 1, 3-2 in additional time. The Avalanche have been possible feeling the results of a layoff, however — as referenced above — Colorado would not get slowed down by adversity.

There additionally could be positives to the ready sport. Gamers have an opportunity to get well and recuperate bodily. The longer Tampa and New York rage on, the nearer Nazem Kadri (out with a damaged thumb) will get to probably showing within the Cup Remaining. The Avalanche do not want arduous practices or exercises at this stage. They’ve proved their mettle already. Maybe the most important problem can be psychological, and staying sharp forward of what would be the most nerve-wracking, career-defining second for a big swath of the Colorado roster.


Who to play? Or to not play?

Coaches and gamers won’t ever admit to favoring one opponent or matchup over one other. However we will do it for them.

Colorado was 2-0 within the common season in opposition to each Tampa Bay and New York (one of many wins in opposition to the Lightning got here in a shootout).

There’s an argument to be made for avoiding the Lightning merely due to how resilient they have been within the playoffs — overcoming a 2-0 deficit to start out the Jap Convention finals would add to that narrative — and the psychological mojo they possess in going for a three-peat.

However the Rangers have been fairly resilient too. Closing out the Hurricanes after shedding the primary two video games of their second-round collection has (rightfully) injected the Rangers with confidence. The Blueshirts pushed the Lightning round early within the convention finals, and have barely ceded an inch of floor since.

No matter group comes out of that collection can be a formidable opponent for Colorado. And there is a world-class goaltender ready within the crease regardless, in New York’s Igor Shesterkin or Tampa Bay’s Andrei Vasilevskiy.

As we have mentioned, the Avalanche are proficient in each class. All issues being equal, Colorado matches up effectively in opposition to both group as a result of the Avalanche are adaptable and might pull from totally different aspects of their sport as required.

Maybe it comes all the way down to avoiding Tampa Bay’s mystique, which is why Colorado may very well be — secretly — pulling for the Rangers. New York’s depth is robust, its goaltending is terrific, it’s a bodily group and stable defensively. Avs-Rangers can be a incredible collection. And — bonus — would supply us all with a brand new Cup champion after two years of the Lightning being on prime.


Powerful break for Kadri

The longer Colorado has earlier than the subsequent spherical kicks off, the higher it will likely be for Kadri. He broke his thumb when Evander Kane boarded him in Sport 3 in opposition to Edmonton, and Kadri can be motivated to take part within the first Cup Remaining of his profession.

Colorado can be equally hopeful to have Kadri return. The ahead has notched six objectives and 14 factors within the playoffs so far and was actually shining taking part in with Mikko Rantanen and Artturi Lehkonen in opposition to the Oilers. Andre Burakovsky has slid right into a second-line position for the Avalanche with Kadri unavailable, and may very well be a fantastic substitute there going ahead. But when Colorado faces a totally wholesome Tampa Bay or New York lineup, Kadri’s absence may very well be an even bigger issue.

It isn’t simply that Kadri is a succesful, constant contributor on the scoresheet. He’s additionally good within the faceoff circle (50.5% within the postseason), has earned large minutes on the ability play (3:11 per sport) and naturally has a method of getting beneath anybody’s pores and skin. Intangibles usually come to the forefront this time of 12 months, and Kadri’s could be particularly useful for Colorado.

Jared Bednar hasn’t been forthcoming about any participant’s well being within the postseason, so it is unlikely he’ll be offering updates on Kadri anytime quickly. What we all know for certain is that Colorado is healthier with Kadri than with out him.

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