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The ten best moments from the Colorado Avalanche’s run to the Stanley Cup

A dominant 16-4 stretch to win the championship created plenty of warm memories for Avalanche fans.

NHL: Stanley Cup Playoffs-Colorado Avalanche at Tampa Bay Lightning Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports

Notice that I wrote “moments” and not “goals” or “plays” or “games” in the Colorado Avalanche’s playoff run to the Stanley Cup. I am swinging the subjectivity door wide-open and I don’t care who knows. Sports make you feel and there is no one uniform method to deliver the indescribable joy that makes being a sports fan worthwhile. Simply said, these are ten Avalanche moments, lasting as short as seconds or as long as hours, that are going to stick with me forever.

And just to get it out of the way: hoisting the Cup is obviously number one and not much more needs to be said, so consider this two through eleven.

10. Nathan Mackinnon’s Godlike s̶e̶r̶i̶e̶s̶-̶e̶n̶d̶i̶n̶g̶ goal vs. St. Louis

If the crossed-out words in this section’s title were not crossed out, this would be much farther up the list. That said, it speaks to the greatness of Nathan Mackinnon that a goal from one of just four postseason losses makes this list. It is the greatest goal I have ever seen in person.

9. The first 20 minutes of the playoffs

Nate’s goal was the best I’ve ever seen, and this period is the best hockey I have ever witnessed live. The Avalanche scored on their second, third, sixth, tenth, and thirteenth shots on the net in the first period, and that understates the persistence of their attack. This opening frame was a message to the rest of the NHL. I will go to my grave believing that with a better power play and more puck luck on their side that period, the Avs could have gone into the second up 10-0 against Nashville.

8. Game 1’s 8-6 win over Edmonton

After vanquishing their newest major rival, the second round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs, in a bruising and emotional series against former Stanley Cup Champions, it would not have been surprising if an Oilers team playing with nothing to lose and the best forward in the world stole Game 1. If Edmonton could not win a track meet where the Avs yet again let a team down three-plus goals back into the game, what game could they win? This one answered that question before the others were even played: none of them. It was obvious after this game that the Avalanche were going to the Final.

7. Artturi Lehkonen sends the Avs to the Stanley Cup Final

It speaks to how cool this run was that the overtime goal to send Colorado to its first Stanley Cup Final in 21 years doesn’t make the top five (in large part because the Final had so many great moments itself), but the fact that the Avalanche were up 3-0 at the time is what undercuts its momentum. That doesn’t make the moment any less goosebump-inducing though, as the catharsis from making it back to hockey’s ultimate stage after two decades in the wilderness is a special moment every Avalanche fan will treasure forever.

6. Erik Johnson taking in the moment after winning the Cup

You can pick a lot of different candidates for this list from the Cup celebration, heck, you can make a top 10 list just of heart-warming moments from the ceremony itself, but one, in particular, stands out to me. The longest-tenured athlete in Denver, a man who has seen all the highs and lows the modern Avalanche has to offer—who said he thought about retiring last year—is skating around the ice in an empty arena talking with a loved one while holding a cold one after winning his first NHL championship. If this is it for EJ, this is as perfect of a send-off as it gets.

5. Conor McGahey’s call of Nazem Kadri’s Game 4 Stanley Cup Final Overtime Winner

The goal itself makes it into the top five since you can assert there was no goal that swung the Cup towards Colorado more than this one (save for its equal of Andre Burakovsky’s Game 1 OT goal on a broken ankle), but Altitude Radio’s Conor McGahey absolutely nailed an impossible call that nearly every other broadcaster reasonably flubbed amidst a moment of extreme confusion. Peter McNab jumped in to the call at the perfect moment with confirmation that Kadri’s shot did go in, sending McGahey off like a rocket in a perfect minute of broadcasting.

Engrave “it did? IT DID!!!!” onto the Cup IMO.

4. Darren Helm’s buzzer-beater

Advancing past St. Louis will always be more meaningful than beating Edmonton in my book, not only because of the Avalanche’s second-round baggage but because I believe St. Louis was a better team and given their championship mettle, was a more formidable test for the Avs. Once Colorado blew Game 5 at home, a whole wealth of bad possibilities came into play inside the shrinking sample that is a seven-game series. The greatest former Red Wing of all time, Darren Helm, ensured that we never saw any of them by blasting home a shot on the final shift of the game that felt like it erased three years of emotional hockey trauma in an instant.

3. “One of the most perfect clinching third periods in the history of hockey”

Bowen Byram’s now-famous words about Colorado’s third period in Game 6 of the Stanley Cup Final are not hyperbole. Tampa Bay i̶s̶ was the NHL’s final boss and one of the few teams who can match Colorado’s high-end skill—and with their dynasty on the line, they fired two shots attempts on goal throughout the entire third period. Of all the things I might be wrong about in this column, not listing this legendary 20-minute effort at number one is the one I’m most likely to be wrong about.

Like I wrote in my piece about what a special team this is: Tampa Bay didn’t pass the torch, and the Avalanche ripped it out of their cold, dead, hands in that third period.

Natural Stat Trick

2. Nazem Kadri’s hat trick

After innocently colliding with a St. Louis defender and falling into Blues goaltender Jordan Binnington, Nazem Kadri came under fire from the entire city of St. Louis. The Blues accused him of intentionally hurting their goalie and called for his suspension, then racists from St. Louis and around the world bombarded Kadri and his family with a torrent of hatred and violent threats. Knowing this was happening because they have the internet just like all the rest of us do, the Blues were silent for the entire day between games, not even putting out an anodyne “racism is bad” statement that their PR department surely has stored in an easily-accessible file somewhere.

The Blues were not the genesis of the racism, their complaints were rooted in the NHL rulebook, but the organization sure didn’t try to do much to stop it from happening. In response, Naz played the game of his life while having the time of his life. He taunted 19,000 fans after his first goal put the Avs ahead for good, then scored what wound up being the game-winner just moments after the Blues thought they had killed a 5-on-3 they stupidly gave themselves by hunting Kadri, and then he capped his hat trick off in the third period just as St. Louis thought they got right back into the game.

With all the tragic real-world news amassing around us daily, it was extremely touching to see such an emphatic moral victory in the sports world that we don’t often see outside of it. Not to mention that in the context of the sports world, Kadri nearly single-handedly winning this game at that moment was one of the more complete clutch performances by a player in recent playoff history.

1. All of Game 2 against Tampa Bay

If the Avalanche makes good on the dynasty talk that is creeping up around this team and within it, we will look back at Game 2 as the moment the rest of the NHL found itself in serious trouble.

I wrote after Game 2 that adjusted for opponent and situation, that was clearly the greatest game in the history of the Colorado Avalanche/Quebec Nordiques franchise, but now I’d like to expand that contention: this was the greatest game any team in the history of the state of Colorado has played when adjusted for opponent and situation.

The Rockies have played in one World Series, and they lost every game. Sorry Matt Holliday, you’re out.

The Nuggets have been to three conference finals in their history, and they lost to the Lakers in uniquely painful ways each time. They’re probably closer than the Rockies, but still don’t make the cut.

The University of Colorado needed five downs to win their split national championship. Out.

That narrows the pool to the University of Denver hockey team and the state religion at Mile High. DU out-grinding the preeminent grinders in college hockey for a national title just a few months ago was very impressive, but it’s not “fire the champ champs into the sun” impressive.

The Broncos capped a dominant season off with an overwhelming performance in Super Bowl 33 makes the cut (although it gets docked quite a bit on opponent difficulty as the Falcons were nothing special). Peyton Manning’s best year in orange culminated with him being on the wrong side of one of the most lopsided Super Bowls ever, so there’s only one candidate from the Broncos’ best non-1998 season. The AFC Championship pseudo-blowout of Tom Brady’s Patriots that preceded Denver’s humiliation in New Jersey barely makes the cut, but they still let Brady score a touchdown that day.

Nikita Kucherov didn’t even have a shot attempt in Game 2.

Tampa Bay had zero shot attempts from the slot at 5-on-5 in Game 2.

There is no game this important on a big stage against an opponent this good where a Colorado team played this well. Ever. This is as good as it gets for Colorado sports.

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If that night’s Colorado Avalanche showed up to every game between now and 2032, they’d put their name on Lord Stanley 10 times in a row. There is no answer for that team that showed up to Game 2, and while you never can fully count the champion out, in hindsight I think it’s clear that the Avalanche effectively won the Stanley Cup last Saturday night—especially when contrasted with a far less emphatic counter-punch by Tampa Bay in Game 3.

The Avs are the perfect fit of skillset, mindset, and system, and with proven winners like Joe Sakic and Jared Bednar leading the charge with a very healthy cap sheet (for now), there is plenty of reason to believe that Game 2 was a preview of what’s to come for this incredibly special team.