With a moment to reflect as the Colorado Avalanche await their first Stanley Cup Final game against the Tampa Bay Lightning and we had some thoughts on what they have achieved to this point.
What has been the most impressive part of the playoff run thus far?
Evan: I think the Blues series was one of resilience and impressive to overcome such adversity. The Blues gave the Avs a run for their money and weren’t too far off forcing a Game 7. It was impressive to go through the Blues and prove their worth. Specifically, the rebound they had in Game 4 after all the controversy, specifically the hat-trick by Nazem Kadri.
Adrian: For me, the most impressive aspect of this cup run has been Colorado’s poise during the high stakes and emotional moments along the way. Time and time again their adversary attempted to goad them into reacting to cheap or late hits. Despite the constant prodding, Colorado has been able to keep it dialed in and the focus has remained on winning the ultimate prize. As Avalanche head coach Jared Bednar put it, “It’s not about ego.” This has been most apparent in the game of Nathan MacKinnon. Nate has been known to get involved in a skirmish or two but not with the big picture on the table and has shifted to a true two-way player in the playoffs.
Connor: I second Adrian’s view here. There have been a number of instances where the Avs could have chosen to engage in needless fights or in trying to prove a point that doesn’t need making, especially when their oponents were making comments about them. But they didn’t do that. They came to play hockey, and they’ve played it well.
Jackie: The 7-0 record on the road including closing out all three series away from home sticks out to me especially as it was one of my concerns heading into the postseason. It is a testament to the focus and resilience this team has.
Jacob: Agreed with all points above so I’d add the first period of Game 1 against Nashville when the Avs exploded for five goals and easily could have had almost twice as many. That period was the best hockey I’ve ever seen any team play live and it was clearly a declaration that this team was on a mission and it set the tone for the rest of the playoffs.
Ezra: For me it’s shrugging off the Kuemper injury and making it look easy to play with a backup. We’ve seen past Avs teams struggle to maintain their pace and quality of play when #1 goalies were forced out of the lineup, and, as effective as Francouz has been, it’s impressive that the team has stayed even-keeled and dominant without #35 between the pipes.
How concerned are you about the injuries moving forward?
Evan: I do indeed have concerns but specifically at the forward positions. The Avs have injuries to Kadri, Andre Burakovsky, Nicolas Aube-Kubel, and Andrew Cogliano - those that we know of anyway. If all four are unavailable due to their injuries, the Avs are thin-stretched and down to names like Jayson Megna and Jacob MacDonald to play on the fourth lines. It’s something to keep an eye on going forward.
Adrian: I’m always concerned about injuries especially heading into a final. The good news is sweeping the Edmonton Oilers will afford a lot of rest for some of the more banged-up players on the roster. There are clear and obvious benefits to this rest time and I’d imagine each and every player on the roster is experiencing the shortcomings of the physically grueling requirements of a Stanley Cup run. The rest over rust conversation will be had, but I think rest is most valuable to any team that’s played an extra month of high-stakes hockey.
Connor: I’m hoping that we’ll see at least some of the players recover by the time the final starts. It’s disappointing as the fourth line has been really great and these injuries will likely mean some changes to the line-up. However, given how many players are currently injured we’re still in a far better position than most teams would be, and that’s something to remember. I’m just hopeful really that we’re not seeing four players out at the start of the final, as the healthier the team is, the more options they have.
Jackie: Good depth helps overcome some of the injury adversity but there is a limit to how many NHL players a club can have in reserves and if the Avalanche suffer too many more they might be through that reserve. This period of rest is an advantage, though, and some of the walking wounded might be able to return.
Jacob: It’s certainly a concern, particularly Kadri’s injury since depth players are far more replaceable than star players, but this Avs team has battled through injuries from the very first game of the year, so if any team can overcome this kind of adversity, it’s this year’s Avalanche.
Ezra: You want everyone in the lineup, of course, but this year’s team has proven throughout the season and the playoffs that they can be effective regardless of the lineup. I’m excited to see who steps up in the forward corps to make up for the loss of Kadri and Cogliano, and would love to see what Ryan Murray can do on the backend - especially if Josh Manson, who hasn’t been practicing, can’t go. But my expectation is we see Manson and Jack Johnson in game one.
What is your favorite memory on the journey to get to the Cup Final?
Evan: The series-clinching goals in rounds two and three have been my favorite memories thanks to their timing and meaning. Against the Blues during Game 6, I was more than prepared for Game 7 before Darren Helm’s heroics with only seconds left in the third period. This most recent series clincher from newcomer Artturi Lehkonen in the extra frame against the Edmonton Oilers to send them to Stanley Cup Final is also spectacular. For the second year in a row with a different team, he played heroics and it is something no Avs fan will forget for a long time.
Jackie: Helm scoring to win Game 6 and get the Avalanche finally over the second round hump, especially after that bitter Game 5 loss, was the biggest moment thus far in my mind, plus it happened on my birthday so that is something I’ll never forget. I also enjoy looking back at how they’ve come, particularly the 48-point 2016-17 season which gave them the gift of Cale Makar.
Adrian: My favorite memory has to be the clinching goal that sent Colorado back to the final for the first time in 2001. The last time Colorado made it this far I was just nine years old. To put that in perspective, I have since finished grade school, and high school then endured an elongated college tenure where I met and married the girl that wore an Avalanche shirt to our first date. We became season ticket holders in 2016-17 not fully thinking this would be a part of the near future and yet, here it is.
Connor: There have been so many moments it’s hard to pick just one. I agree that all the series winning goals have been especially good to remember, and I’ll be thinking about them for a long time. I think in terms of some less impressive, but still stand-out moments it has to be Frankie coming in and working so hard to keep the Avs in the game, particularly in the second game of the conference finals. Also Josh Manson making a save was a fun one!
Jacob: The Darren Helm goal for sure. With all the baggage the Avalanche have had with the second round in recent years, and how Game 5 turned from a dream to a nightmare in an instant, it was hard to keep the negative thoughts from creeping in the closer that game got to overtime. As soon as Helm’s goal hit the back of the net, three-plus years of years of stress just evaporated into pure joy and more than a little relief.
Ezra: It’s the Kadri game - I haven’t seen a single player dominate in the face of adversity to that extent in any sport ever. It was incredible theater. A close second is that end to end MacKinnon goal for the hat trick in Game 5 against St. Louis. That one gets lost in the shuffle since they ended up losing the game, but god it was amazing. My neighbors must think somebody died in my apartment I was screaming so much.
Who is your Conn Smythe front runner?
Evan: The only correct answer here is Cale Makar. He’s one of the quickest players to 50 playoff points and had a record 10 points in four games in the first round against the Nashville Predators. He shut down the dynamic duo of Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl with his defensive partner Devon Toews. However, the baby-faced assassin and his patchy grown-out playoff beard will be hoisting the Conn Smythe if his team wins it all.
The work Devon Toews and Cale Makar put in defensively in the Conference Final. Enough in just 4 games to make a full mix of them breaking plays up, knocking pucks away, stepping up in the neutral zone pic.twitter.com/Hv9orJoazx— Dimitri Filipovic (@DimFilipovic) June 7, 2022
Jackie: Makar is my front runner as well as he’s leading the Avalanche in scoring by four points with 22 and getting a lot of national attention for it. What he’s been able to do is remarkable and the impact he has from the back end is truly special. Nathan MacKinnon, Mikko Rantanen and Gabe Landeskog are all close behind and could catch fire in the finals. Nazem Kadri is a dark horse if he returns could get a lot of credit for overcoming just about everything this postseason. Safe bet is Makar though, his name is just destined to get etched on trophies.
Adrian: If I had a vote it would be Nathan MacKinnon. That’s not to take anything away from Cale Makar who is undoubtedly the most electrifying and consistent Avalanche player. I chose MacKinnon specifically because this is his moment. He is infamous for saying, “I’m going into my ninth year and haven’t won s**t,” after losing to Vegas last season. Throughout MacKinnon’s career, he has risen to the occasion. If that holds true, we should see a version of Nathan MacKinnon that is more tenacious and dangerous than any before.
NATHAN MACKINNON!! TIE GAME IN EDMONTON. #StanleyCup | #FindAWay pic.twitter.com/6F4FgDYH0X— Sportsnet (@Sportsnet) June 7, 2022
Connor: It has to be Cale Makar. He’s played consistently well, both in terms of the points he’s getting but also defensively. It really stood out how much of a difference he can quickly make, when in the first round he was leading the playoffs in points. He’s such a dynamic player who brings incredible skill and an intuitive understanding of the game.
Jacob: Cale Makar. Wayne Gretzky said he was the best player on the ice every night in a series with Connor McDavid. Makar has already made it clear he’s the best defenseman in the league and the far more interesting topic is whether he actually has moved past McDavid to be the best player in the NHL.
Ezra: Everybody’s saying Cale so the contrarian in me wants to pick like Erik Johnson or something for being good again despite being old, but no. It’s Cale y’all. He’s scoring at a crazy rate for a defenseman, killing penalties, controlling all zones, and I mean... scroll back up and watch the video Evan posted, it’s everything. All Hail Cale!