Three games into the Colorado Avalanche’s first round series, the Arizona Coyotes looked like they had signs of life following their pick-up of a 4-2 win.
Those signs of life quickly fluttered out in their following two games, though, and the Avalanche made quick work of Arizona in a five-game series that capped off with a 7-1 win led by none other than Nazem Kadri. They became the fourth team to punch their ticket to the second round, following Tuesday night’s win by the Vegas Golden Knights (who are the favorite to face Colorado in the Western Conference Final) and Wednesday’s earlier series win by the Boston Bruins and Tampa Bay Lightning.
Philipp Grubauer played fine, but the real stars were once again Colorado’s offense in a game that both showed how woefully underprepared Arizona was and how easy it is to see that this could be the Mile High team’s year.
The Avalanche knew they had the Coyotes right where they wanted them coming into Wednesday afternoon’s game, sitting with a 3-1 series lead and fresh off of a game that saw them defeat Arizona 7-1 in a sound thrashing.
Despite knowing that Arizona was fatigued and struggling to connect passes in their prior games, though, Colorado jumped right in on Wednesday with the same energy that they brought in Game 4.
Scoring opened up almost immediately, with Nazem Kadri capitalizing yet again on Arizona putting up sloppy work both in their penalty kill and in order to go down a man. He scored his first goal of the game just over four minutes in, getting in front of the net and taking an easy pass from Gabriel Landeskog from below the goal line:
Samuel Girard would follow up with another power-play goal just four minutes later, tallying his first of the playoffs from up high and feeding the puck through traffic right along the slot line, before Kadri found the back of the net again on a beautiful deke just prior to the end of the first frame:
Nathan MacKinnon was the star of the second period, making quick work of Darcy Kuemper first at even strength and then on the power-play:
Arizona shockingly didn’t yank starter Darcy Kuemper after MacKinnon’s second goal, seemingly hoping that the team’s lackluster attempts at sparking their offense would keep the puck away from the net for the rest of the period. But before the second period was over, yet another Avalanche forward would manage to sneak the puck past Kuemper; he was beaten by Nikita Zadorov with a beautiful tip (on a feed from none other than Nathan MacKinnon himself) that set the Coyotes into a 6-0 hole before they were even able to consider putting Raanta in as relief.
The third period saw Arizona gain a small spark of life in the form of a goaltending switch, with Antti Raanta turning away the first handful of shots he faced and Arizona managing to push the puck out of their own zone more than they had in seemingly the previous five periods combined. They even managed to fire a goal of their own, as youngster Clayton Keller salvaged his postseason a bit with a goal of his own to avoid getting shut out en route to elimination.
J.T. Compher would manage to beat Antti Raanta high glove side with a handful of minutes left in the game, though, and the fifth bout between the two Western Conference teams would finish just as the fourth did — with a 7-1 final score and a discouraged-looking Arizona squad seemingly struggling to keep their heads above water.
The goaltending in the series was supposed to be a tightly-fought battle, but Philipp Grubauer and Pavel Francouz both looked just fine for Colorado — while Darcy Kuemper for Arizona looked tired and off his game by the time games four and five rolled around. He was stellar for Arizona in Game 1 — far from their biggest problem — and good in games two and three, but got chased in both of the final games of Arizona’s playoff appearance by an offense that seemed to figure him out quickly and poke holes in the weakest parts of his game.
Part of that was deceptive shots by guys like Nazem Kadri (who was a star) and Nathan MacKinnon, but it was also due to some stellar net-front play by guys like Valeri Nichushkin. Screening Kuemper was a big part of getting him off of his game, and the Avalanche capitalized by making it hard for the big netminder to track shots through traffic.
The big story, though, has to be Nazem Kadri. Although he’s struggled to thrive in the playoffs in years past, it’s become clear since he arrived in Colorado that avoiding suspension was the only key needed to elevating him to star status; he finished the first round of official postseason play combined with his play-in stats with an incredible six goals and 11 points through just eight games. He and Nathan MacKinnon combine to be arguably the league’s scariest one-two punch left in the postseason, particularly now that Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews (who were eliminated on Tuesday night) have dropped out.
The overall energy level and compete from Colorado is hard to find even the slightest fault with. And although they’ll undoubtedly meet with more resistance from another team in the second round, it’s hard to think that they aren’t destined to go all the way.