When you think about Flashback Friday, your mind usually does to a few years or even decades ago. Not this time. Let’s go back less than four months - 4/19 to be exact.
When the Colorado Avalanche clinched a playoff spot for the second straight year, it felt like a win. The team had battled back from a horrendous mid-portion of the season and were able to squeak into the second Wild Card position of the Western Conference.
As the final team to make the playoffs in the west, the Avs knew they would be matching up against the number one seed - the Calgary Flames. To make things worse, the Avalanche finished the regular seasons winless in their three meetings with Calgary.
As a result, no one gave Colorado a chance to advance to the second round.
NHL dot com polled 15 staff writers - every one of them predicted a Flames victory. All twenty-two Sportsnet analysts predicted the same.
You would be hard pressed to find anyone who predicted an Avalanche series victory - except, you know, your truly (kindly ignore the rest of the bracket):
While most were surprised the Avalanche were able to beat Calgary, what’s most shocking is how handily they did it. If you had told someone before the series began that Colorado would eliminate the top seed, most would have assumed it was Mike Smith who cost his team the series. He didn’t. He played better than he had in the regular season, but it wasn’t enough.
Colorado simply outclassed the Flames.
After losing game one in Calgary, the Avs turned into a new team and easily handled their opponents from game two on. Nathan MacKinnon, Gabriel Landeskog and Mikko Rantanen were the offensive catalyst as the big-3 combined for nine of the team’s 17 goals over the five game series.
They Avalanche didn’t just beat the Flames, they dominated them for most of the series. Colorado was able to accomplish an impressive 56% even-strength shot share over the five games. What’s most impressive is that they were able to do it against Calgary’s 3M line - a combination that is often lauded as one of the best 3-zone lines in the league.
What we know now about the injuries makes the Avs’ performance even more amazing. The team’s two stabilizing veterans on the blue line - Erik Johnson and Ian Cole - were both playing through injuries that needed to be repaired with surgery this offseason.
Luckily for Avalanche fans, the 2019 NHL playoffs turned into the Cale Makar show. The 20-year-old rookie went from Hobey Baker winner to National Championship runner-up to looking like a legitimate star in the course of a couple week. He joined the team for game three of the series and made an instant impact.
Coach Bednar gave Makar a lot of offensives zone starts, so he was being sheltered to an extent, but every time he was on the ice, Makar looked like a legitimate veteran that had been playing playoff hockey for a decade. Makar was expected to make an impact on the Avalanche franchise, but it was hard to imagine he’d be that good, that fast.
Led by their stars and a raw rookie, the Avalanche stunned the hockey world by defeating the Flames and sending the top seed to the golf course after only five games.
The young team followed it up by pushing the San Jose Sharks to seven games in what was one of the most exciting series of the 2019 NHL playoffs. The incredible run fell short but it gave us a glimpse of what this Avs team can do.
We can see that this MacKinnon-led Avalanche team is destined for greatness and the first step was that game five victory in Calgary. It gave the franchise their first playoff victory in 11 years and made for a very nice celebration on April 20th.