Analysts everywhere (mostly outside of Denver) have been referring to the Colorado Avalanche as a “one line team” since their dominant run in November and into this year’s Stanley Cup Playoffs. Is that the case? Don’t get me wrong, Nathan MacKinnon, Mikko Rantanen, and Gabriel Landeskog drive offensive performance, but what about JT “Justin Time” Compher and his two clutch goals? What of Matt Nieto’s two short-handed beauties? Also, didn’t the Avalanche win seven of ten to end the regular season without Landeskog or Rantanen?
BIG TIME JIMOTHY TIMOTHY
The Ryan O’Reilly trade still breathes life into the Avalanche roster as J.T. Compher has been as opportunistic as ever potting two huge goals that lead to round one wins for the Avs. He finds himself in the right place at the right time game in and game out. Compher opened the scoring for the Avs in game five and tied it in up late in game two. Coach Jared Bednar appears to like what he sees from Compher who has averaged three more on-ice minutes per game than in last years first round series with Nashville. His speed has become a weapon that Calgary’s bottom-6 simply wasn’t able to match.
THE CALIFORNIA KID
Scoring shorthanded seems to be Nieto’s strong suit as he’s usually able to take advantage of an active stick and his break out speed. The good Matt has three shorthanded goals on the season, and it was his goal midway through game two that finally opened the scoring for the Colorado Avalanche. It’s hard to imagine just where the Avalanche would be without these big plays.
MADE THE PUSH WITHOUT THE BIG DOGS
It seems like today’s hockey analysts are so desperate for a story, they will tell the same one over and over, even if it’s not true. Remember back on March 7 when the Avalanche took a 4-0 whopping on the chin and lost Captain Gabe Landeskog for almost three weeks? He missed nine of the last fifteen games of the season only returning for the final five. Add to that the loss of Mikko Rantanen for the final eight games of the regular season and the Avalanche made the playoff push without a “top line.”
The Avalanche clinched thanks to active play from some uncovered talent. Colin Wilson was an absolute world beater, skating with grit and spirit. Ian Cole, Patrik Nemeth, and Erik Johnson were excellent in front of Philipp Grubaur and on the breakout. Tyson Barrie confused the opposition by jumping into the play and had me out of my seat on countless occasions. Alexander Kerfoot stepped into the top-line with Landeskog and MacKinnon without skipping a beat and Compher scored timely goals. All of this was true to end the regular season and has continued into the playoffs.
Since the return of Rantanen and Landeskog, we’ve only seen the big three on the powerplay. The big line has been split the entire playoffs, thus I won’t accept the one line rhetoric.
SURPRISE BLUE LINE
The most pleasant surprise of 2018-2019 has to be the apparent depth the Avalanche have acquired on the blue line. Cale Makar is the cherry on top of the moves that GM Joe Sakic has made in the back end. Nemeth, Girard and Ian Cole have all become great pickups for Colorado. While the Cole signing looked like a bad one earlier in the season, the veteran blueliner has been proving his critics wrong as he’s stepped up in a big way during these playoffs.
Like Compher, Nikita Zadorov is also in burgundy as a result of trading O’Reilly to the Sabres back in 2016 and has blossomed into the physical presence we all hoped he’d become.
NOTE: The third player featured in the O’Reilly Trade, Mikhail Grigorenko, lead the KHL in points and lead CSKA to their first ever Gagarin Cup this season. Not too shabby.
The one player that seems to be getting the acknowledgment he deserves is Philipp Grubauer. Grubby has undoubtedly been the catalyst for Avalanche success, as he’s only let in more than two goals in two appearances since February 17. Yes, you read that right. He finished the First round with a .939 save percentage and allowed just 1.89 goals a game.
WE’VE GOT THE SAUCE
If the first round has taught us anything is that it’s all about momentum and mindset in the playoffs. Look at the Tampa Bay Lightning who were swept by the bad Matt and his Columbus Blue Jackets. It’s more important to come into the tournament hot than to just cruise in. It’s more important to finish the regular season strong than to rest players. Which is why it can’t be ignored that the Colorado Avalanche are the hottest team in the NHL over the last month.
The Stanley Cup is genuinely up for grabs this year with top seeds eliminated on both sides of the bracket. Enter the Colorado Avalanche. Is this the year the Avalanche steal a cup and start the party a bit ahead of schedule? I think so. Now I know, It’s just round two, but if the Avs stick to the script, and harness their intangibles and talent, they will have a real shot. IF they win the whole enchilada, it will be because they aren’t just a “one line team.”