There is no tomorrow, there’s only what happens in this moment and that resulted in the season ending. The Colorado Avalanche dug themselves out of a 3-1 hole to force Game 7 against the Dallas Stars. Through a sloppy but spirited game it looked like the Avalanche had control at points but couldn’t hold off the Stars’ final push as they fell 5-4 in overtime.
It wasn’t the start the Avalanche wanted with Mikko Rantanen taking an early penalty and then of course the Starts converted their opportunity from Alexander Radulov just under three minutes into the game. The Avalanche answered back only a minute later when Vlad Namestnikov tipped an Ian Cole shot past Dallas netminder Anton Khudobin.
Andre Burakovsky is frustrating at times but when he contributes what he does best he can create goal out of nothing. Burakovsky did just that with his blistering shot to give the Avalanche a lead at off of a Dallas turnover at 9:43.
In the second period the two teams held serve. Dallas scored on a delayed penalty on a tip from Joel Kiviranta at 3:06. However the Avalanche responded again when Nazem Kadri crashed the net and finally cashed in on a power play opportunity at 5:45.
The third period saw the Avalanche give up the lead twice, fail on their own power play plus let in a goal on the penalty kill to Radulov again at 11:28. It appeared like the Avalanche had one final trick up their sleeve when Namestnikov scored his second goal of the game with 3:40 left on the clock but it was Kiviranta again who evened the score 10 seconds later to dampen the mood quickly. The score held 4-4 for the final three minutes and we were headed to overtime.
The joke was first team to five goals would win each game in this series and what perfect way to cap it off with a 5-4 final. Overtime did not last long and rookie Kiviranta scored the hat trick at 7:24. For someone who hadn’t played since August 20th against the Calgary Flames he showed what having true depth from the minors can do for a team. Season over.
Injuries are an unfortunate reality of the game but they are not unforeseen especially with what the Avalanche dealt with in the regular season. The problem is that they are left with options such as Sheldon Dries to insert in the lineup because they failed to get any other players ready to contribute. Multiple first round picks sitting in the stands and the Czech Republic as the Avalanche left talent on the table. The result is Dries and Kevin Connauton each only played six minutes in regulation and which forced Cale Makar, Sam Girard and Nathan MacKinnon to play 32:01, 29:06 and 27:55 respectively. They looked gassed and were not as effective especially at creating offense.
Special teams were another enormous factor in this series and Game 7 loss. The Avalanche hadn’t scored a 5-on-4 power play since Game 2 and even including Makar’s 5-on-3 goal in Game 4 they were on a 1-for-21 stretch until Kadri scored in the second period. The Stars converted on both of their power play opportunities in this game plus on a delayed penalty with the extra skater while the Avalanche could only muster a 1-for-4 effort. The final special teams tallies were 4-for-32 (12.5%) for the Avalanche and 9-for-23 (39.1%) for the Stars.
The Avalanche did well to fight back after going down 2-0 in this series and winning two straight elimination games without their top two goaltenders but it’s tough not to feel like an opportunity was lost especially with multiple third period leads that they could just not add on to. Their nucleus is full of top end players who are or will be signed long term, which is the envy of any team. The devil is in the details however and the Avalanche need to understand what will get them to the next level. Fixing the aforementioned issues with internal depth and special teams will go a long way to helping support the next playoff run.
The NHL entry draft and free agency in early October.