The Colorado Avalanche’s top line was the most-talked-about story for the team in their first-round series sweep of the St. Louis Blues. That line was responsible for 9 of the 20 goals in the series. However, another unit of theirs that was was arguably just as impactful was their blue line. Defense has been essential to the team’s success all season. One blue liner in particular who was a difference-maker was Ryan Graves.
Graves Starts Out Scoring in Game 2
Graves, who scored 15 points in the regular season and already has four in this season’s playoffs. His first point came just 35 seconds into Game 2. Following a convincing hit by captain Gabriel Landeskog on Blues’ captain Ryan O’Reilly, Graves took a pass up to the point and made a nice centering shot that was redirected into the goal by winger Jonas Donskoi. This set the tone for the Avs’ commanding 6-3 victory in Game 2.
Graves would have an even better performance in Game 3 on his 26th birthday, the one game in the series in which the team’s top line was not the biggest scoring factor.
Graves has Memorable Birthday on Ice
“We really do believe in that next-man-up mentality,” said Graves, according to NHL.com. “Our depth scoring has been huge for us. We want to have everybody pitch in. It’s a big part of our success and our game plan.”
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Early in the second period, Graves capitalized on a golden opportunity after coming out of the penalty box for serving a 2-minute roughing penalty. He immediately skated towards the front of a loose puck that was overpassed out of the Avs’ zone. He rushed to the goal, forcing Blues goaltender Jordan Binnington out of the net. Graves found a split second to shoot prior to the goaltender getting to the loose puck and gave the Avs a 1-0 lead in Game 3.
“I don’t know how it squeaked out, but it kind of squeaked out to a very good spot for me,” Graves added. “I had the jump on their guy and it popped out and that’s kind of the stuff in the box you’re thinking about. It’s wishful thinking that it’s gonna come out that way. It was a big goal for us.”
Graves followed this goal up with an assist on Alex Newhook’s first career goal, which would ultimately be the game-winner. He capped off the game by setting up a J.T. Compher’s empty-netter for his third point of the night. On his birthday, the 26-year-old defenseman finished with a team-leading +/- of 4. He leads all Avs’ players with a +/- of 9 in this season’s playoffs.
The Avs re-signed Graves this offseason for an added three-year, $3,166,667 contract. This contract does not take up too much of the Avs’ cap percentage, and it does not include a signing bonus. For what Graves has given the team all season as a part of the second defensive pairing, the contract seems worth it. The contract also accommodates Graves with an annual raise.
Graves is not usually a scoring defenseman like fellow blueliner Cale Makar, but he certainly showed that he too can join the Avs’ party of scorers. In his third year in the league, he has shown off grit but well-disciplined play on the ice. The Avs definitely could use that grit on top of their dominance, especially because they are not known as a hard-hitting team, so he is certainly someone to watch moving forward. The Avs will continue to count on the services of their blue line in the next round against, against whichever of the two opponents they face. Both possible opponents finished in the top half in scoring in the regular season.
Ben Rossi covers the Colorado Avalanche for THW. He can also be found writing and co-hosting the Exit Velo Podcast for the website BackSportsPage. For BackSportsPage he covers hockey, the Oakland Athletics, Major League Baseball news, and other sports stories that stretch beyond the playing field. Graduated with a degree in Journalism from the University of Denver where he covered the Denver Pioneers college hockey program as an undergraduate staff writer for the DU Clarion.