It took overtime, a relentless comeback, and some timely saves but Game 4 and the Western Conference Finals between the Colorado Avalanche and Edmonton Oilers are finally over, with Colorado advancing to the Stanley Cup final following a 6-5 win and 4-0 series sweep.
Credit to the Oilers, they battled hard in this one with tenacity throughout their depleted forward lineup, electrifying offensive performances from Zach Hyman and Connor McDavid, and a heroic effort from a hobbled Leon Draisaitl who put up four assists on one leg.
But the Avalanche had heroes too, getting regulation goals from all their big guns - Cale Makar in the first period, then Devon Toews, Gabe Landeskog, Nathan Mackinnon, and Mikko Rantanen in the third period - and the overtime winner from the only guy on the ice who had scored an OT winner to send his team to the final before in Artturi Lekhonen.
The game began with MacKinnon and McDavid’s lines head-to-head, but the two offensive juggernauts didn’t produce anything dangerous. Instead, the first chance came when Edmonton rookie Dylan Holloway got loose in the slot on his first NHL shift, but put the shot up over Avalanche goalie Pavel Francouz’s net.
The teams traded possessions until Zach Kassian was called for slashing after taking a chop at Jack Johnson’s hands on a clearing attempt, sending the Avalanche to the powerplay and kick starting the Avalanche to the first seven shots on goal of the contest.
Cale Makar started things off with a slick power play zone entry, darting through the Oilers penalty kill all the way to the net. The Oilers managed a clear, but on the Avs second zone entry the powerplay got set up, Mackinnon put a shot on net, Lekhonen scooped up the rebound and dished it back to Makar who sniped a wrister past a Landeskog screen to open the scoring.
Colorado kept the shot chart blank despite a decent pushback from the Oilers when Andre Burakovsky, back in the lineup after a blocked shot off the ankle forced him to miss two games, blocked an Evan Bouchard bomb.
The ice tilted back toward the Edmonton goal after that, as MacKinnon split the Oiler D on a rush chance and Valeri Nichuskin nearly potted the rebound, then moments later Josh Manson picked off a clearing attempt and snapped a wrister off the crossbar.
Darren Helm took a penalty for holding after snatching Zach Kassian’s stick out of his hands, and McDavid immediately got a grade A shot off the ensuing powerplay faceoff. The Avs penalty kill played a very passive box and gave Tyson Barrie some space to distribute, but an errant pass from Ryan Nugent Hopkins on half wall forced the powerplay to reset.
The Oilers second unit, in what would become a pattern throughout the game, was unable to get set up at all leading to some easy clears for Colorado’s penalty kill.
Just a few minutes after returning from the box, Helm was involved in another penalty as he and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins collided and spilled to the ice near Erik Johnson, who was called for a tripping penalty. The refs botched that, but largely stayed out of this game - letting a ton go for both teams and getting the calls they did make correct.
On this second Oiler powerplay, the Avalanche actually took play to them, playing much more aggressive out high to combat Evan Bouchard’s slapshot after he replaced Barrie on Edmonton’s top unit. The attacking strategy worked, leading to shorthanded chances for Logan O’Connor, Helm, and then O’Connor again. Draisaitl also got a shot off on the powerplay, but Colorado’s penalty kill outshot Edmonton’s power play 3-1. Not bad.
Overall, the Avalanche controlled this period at even strength, generated shots on their powerplay and on Edmonton’s powerplay, and looked like the better team heading into the locker room up by a goal and with a 16-12 shot advantage.
Edmonton played their top guys heavy minutes, mostly due to their power play usage, but two of their best even strength chances came on Holloway’s two shifts. He had some jump in his debut, but didn’t get much of an opportunity to use it.
Every time Leon Draisaitl went down, he struggled to get up. Turns out playing on a high ankle sprain is painful and difficult.
The big lines started this period as well, trading chances but no shots on goal yet again. Draisaitl barely made it to the bench.
Bowen Byram got away with a massive crosscheck in front of the net, springing a breakout that led to chance for Nicolas Aube-Kubel, who drove the net from the corner but was poke checked neatly by Oilers goalie Mike Smith. Aube-Kubel put another shot on goal off the ensuing faceoff win by Compher, but was turned aside again by Smith.
Jack and Erik Johnson each made great neutral zone plays to hem the Oilers in their half of the ice, and Alex Newhook and Compher played a little hot potato down the slot until Newhook ripped one into Smith’s chest. Neither skater could corral it cleanly, but Smith was up to the task.
Helm won the next draw back to Manson for a bomb that Smith also gobbled up, as the Avs continue to bury the Oilers in chances. The first half of the second period was an Avalanche shooting gallery, as their forecheck and neutral zone pressure prevented Edmonton from spending any sustained time in the Avalanche zone.
Jusse Puljujarvi took an awkward fall into the boards while trying to hit Byram, leaving the Oilers with 10 forwards since they rostered 11 and seven defensemen. This would prove to be a blessing in disguise, as Coach Jared Bednar’s attempts to keep the big line out against McDavid got more complicated with him playing every other shift.
A mistimed change, possibly due to that confusion, left Hyman open in the slot on a rush led by McDavid and Draisaitl. Draistailt found him, and he beat Francouz to tie the game.
Landeskog then tried to tie up Zach Kassian along the boards but accidentally took his legs out, in what ended up a dangerous collision that shook them both up and a holding penalty on the Avs captain.
With Bouchard still on the top unit, the Avs penalty kill played a large box and kept everything to the outside. Cogliano blocked a shot early in the kill, then late in it broke his stick on a clearing attmept and still managed to do just enough with body positioning to force McDavid into a turnover Toews was able to clear.
The third line followed up the fantastic penalty kill with a great shift of their own, forcing play back into the Oiler’s end and generating shots for Makar and Compher that couldn’t quite beat Smith.
The Edmonton 4th line, if you can call it that since they only had ten forwards left and weren’t playing Holloway much at all, returned the favor with a great shift of their own in the Avs end, with Brad Malone nearly sneaking one past Francouz’s outstretched right pad alone in front.
Duncan Keith then managed to get a chance in close after Hyman took Makar’s stick out of his hands, but Francouz’s right pad beat him as well.
Unfortunately, Francouz’s left pad was not up to the task when Nugent-Hopkins got in alone after a botched pass from O’Connor to Toews sprung him on a breakaway. 2-1 Edmonton, and Colorado’s dominant first ten minutes of the period were well in the rearview following two point blank goals off their own errors.
With the crowd firmly back on their side, Edmonton kept the pressure on and Hyman struck a post on a nice feed from McDavid. Cleaning up the rebound, Manson was then decked from behind by Kassian. The puck ended up on Newhook’s stick but he put it over the glass for a delay of game penalty as Kassian boarded him, too.
Edmonton put Barrie back on top power play unit, so the Avs backed off and McDavid used that extra space to snipe one from the right faceoff dot past Francouz, off the left post and in.
The Avs really did dominate the first half of this period, but a couple little mistakes led to nice plays by the Oilers that Francouz couldn’t stop, and then the Oilers turned it up and really took it to Colorado the rest of the way winning the second period 3-0.
The top lines faced off again, but this time instead of trading rush chances the Avs got it deep, Landeskog won a puck battle up to Makar who sent it across the blue line for Toews whose wrist shot toward a driving Mackinnon hit Cody Ceci and snuck past Mike Smith. Just 31 seconds in the Edmonton lead was cut in half and life began to emerge for the visitors.
The Avs kept the pressure on for a few shifts, but Edmonton pushed back and after chances for Hyman and Puljujarvi - who managed to come back from his earlier injury - the Avs top line got caught deep in the offensive zone. The Oilers broke out 4-on-2, with McDavid leading the rush. He dropped it to Draisaitl at the right point, who rifled a pass wide to Hyman who sent a funky knuckler up over Francouz’s head and left shoulder into the net. 4-2.
This felt like a dagger in the moment watching the game, but if it was, the Avs pulled that dagger right out and got back to work as Rantanen fought through literal abuse from Keith to feed Compher in front. Smith came up with the save but the Avs just kept ramping up the pressure and the Oilers matched them.
Erik Johnson snuffed out a 3-on-1, then Mackinnon broke in alone, then McDavid got a chance in close, then Smith got the puck along his wall and tried to clear it but it hit the stripes and stayed in the zone.
After some sustained Avalanche possession, Byram sent a puck to MacKinnon in front who tried to stuff it through Smith. The puck laid in the crease as Smith and his defense tried to clear it, but Landeskog pounced in and chipped it up over the netminder.
There was a quick review for possible goalie interference but it was a good goal — there was no push on Smith’s pads that stopped him from playing the chipped up puck.
Smith was livid, and his team pushed back for him. Hyman took a puck in the neutral zone that MacKinnon swiped at and missed, but MacKinnon kept skating through the play and took out Hyman’s legs. He was called for a trip, giving Edmonton another powerplay and a chance at another two goal lead.
On the power play, Draisaitl missed a wide open net on a cross ice feed from McDavid, then Barrie put a puck in front that caused a bit of chaos, and then fumbled a puck at the blueline for an offside call. The second unit again failed to set up and again Foegle got a chance in the slot just after the penalty expired.
But then the Avalanche pushed back, as Makar whipped a pass up ice to Lehkonen who chipped it to Mackinnon streaking through the neutral zone. He gathered it, took it out wide and in one fluid motion roofed a shot over Smith’s glove to tie the game.
Moments later Derek Ryan took Rantanen down next to Francouz and was sent to the penalty box and on the power play Rantanen flat beat Smith with a wrister from the right faceoff dot. 5-4, Avalanche.
Back at even strength, Helm nearly extended the lead with a solo rush down the right wall through McDavid, but he couldn’t quite finish what would have been the grinder version of the classic Forsberg self tap in goal. It would have been glorious, but instead the Oilers dug deep and gave everything they had back to Colorado.
Rantanen tried to cut to the middle at the blue line on Darnell Nurse, who drilled him with a huge check through the chest. Draisaitl picked up the puck, whipped it to McDavid who streaked down the right wall and wired a shot that snuck through Francouz and trickled to the goal line where Kassian slammed it home.
With the score now tied, both teams found another gear. Kassian decked Landskog nearly into the Oilers bench, MacKinnon ripped a wrister off Smith then nearly snuck a backhander past him in the slot, Nichushkin backchecked hard on Hyman to force an easy stop for Francouz with 3.4 seconds left and Draisaitl won the following faceoff back to... no one. Period over.
This period was amazing, even though TNT analyst and former player of some note Wayne Gretzky said there wasn’t any defense. The Avs top guys brought it and refused to let the Oiler lead stand. You love to see it.
The top lines matched up again to start the overtime period, and didn’t generate much. Mackinnon, Landeskog, and Nichushkin played sound defense and forced an offensive zone faceoff, and Bednar turned to his fourth line, with Lekhnonen in place of Andrew Cogliano who had been injured earlier blocking a shot, to take the draw.
Helm won it back to Makar who flung a wrister toward Smith. Lekhnonen tipped it, it ricchoted off Smith’s pad right back to Lekhonen who made one quick deke to the middle and buried it in the open net.
After a quick review to determine if the tip was a high stick, the game was over. The series was over.
To quote TNT rules analyst Don Koharski: “Holy Sh*t!
The Stanley Cup Final! Date and opponent to be determined after a period of well-earned rest.