Resilience. Determination. Style. Power. These are just some of the many ways to describe what just happened.
After a Game 7 was looking likely between the Colorado Avalanche and St. Louis Blues, fourth-liner Darren Helm played heroics with only 5.6 seconds left in regulation to clinch his team a spot in the Western Conference Finals.
The Avs are a part of the final four teams in the Stanley Cup Playoffs for the first time since 2002. It sets up a dramatic matchup with the Edmonton Oilers, with the headliner of Nathan MacKinnon versus Connor McDavid. It took a lot to get to that point in the first place.
The period was a two-sided story with the Avs finding it difficult to control the puck well. It kept bouncing on them, and they couldn’t control passes or even skate with it on their own. The first line was doing some good work though, gaining momentum before and after killing off a Josh Manson interference penalty.
However, Ville Husso was up to the task with everything he faced. It helped his team, as in the final minute Justin Faulk walked in all alone and beat the blocker of Darcy Kuemper. Against the run of play and really demoralizing the Avs, the Blues took the 1-0 lead into the room.
The period started nicely for the Avs. After stopping Robert Thomas on the breakaway, the Avs put on the pressure. It kept Nick Leddy on the ice for a three-minute shift. At the end of it, J.T. Compher would beat him and Husso to the puck off the rebound to tie the game.
It looked like the Avs could keep growing on that goal. Jack Johnson had other ideas, as he gave away the puck at the Blues line. It led to a Brayden Schenn pass and Jordan Kyrou's goal on a 2-on-1 to get the lead back.
It was all Blues from here on out. They killed off a Thomas penalty and were pressing for another. It even led to Josh Manson being a goaltender for a save after Darcy Kuemper was caught swimming out of the crease. Kyrou would miss on a breakaway at the end of the period, and the Avs were lucky to only be down by one goal heading into the third.
The period started with Nazem Kadri nearly getting the equalizer but couldn’t beat a sliding Husso. It looked as if the Avs didn’t have much of anything left in the tank. They got a golden chance when Colton Parayko threw the puck over the net. Compher would score his second of the night over the glove of Husso, busting the bottle in the process to tie it.
It looked like the game could go either way. The referees were letting play flow, which included several missed interference penalties on the Blues. The Avs were pushing towards the end of the game, looking for anything.
On the final rush down the ice, Helm of all people would find the puck at the near circle. He just slapped one to the net and it beat the traffic and caught twine. With 5.6 seconds left, he was bombarded by his teammates and gave the Avs a historic franchise win.
What looked like a game that was destined to go to overtime ended up taking a dramatic path. There are so many ways to describe the events of the night, yet it also can leave you speechless at the same time - at least that’s what it is for me. Depth ended up being the difference, with the goals from Compher and Helm. While the first line was good, they couldn’t get it done as the bottom six did.
While the win and feeling of finally getting past the second round are great, there are still several criticisms to take from this game. The Avs struggled to move the puck all night long and it led to crucial mistakes and goals for the Blues. Kuemper was certainly not at his best after the first goal and has Manson to thank for covering an open net on a Kyrou shot. The boys also found it hard to take their chances. Thanks to the number of chances they had, it was only a matter of time before they pushed through and they did just that. It would be better if they can capitalize sooner and put games away.
The so-called curse is finally over: the Avalanche has finally made it past the second round. This is unchartered territory for them, as it’s the first time they’ve been here in 20 years. The same can be said about the Oilers though, who haven’t been to the third round since 2006. They will be representing all of Canada and have some of the best top players in the world and are set for quite a matchup.
The Avs have a meeting with McDavid and the Edmonton Oilers in the Western Conference Finals, with the winner of the series going off to represent the West in the Stanley Cup Finals. Game 1 is on Tuesday night, May 31 at 6:00 p.m. MT on TNT.