For the first time in over a decade, the Colorado Avalanche began an NHL campaign with lofty expectations, both from themselves and pundits outside the organization. In an unprecedented season, one with few fans and many meetings with familiar opponents, many believed Colorado could establish themselves as one of the premier organizations in the National Hockey League.
Five months later, in front of 4,000 passionate supporters, the Avalanche fulfilled those expectations, at least for the regular season. For the third time in franchise history, and the first time since 2001, the Avs secured the Presidents’ Trophy by officially finishing first in the 2020-21 regular-season standings.
The trophy was not an easy prize to return to the Mile High City. After a start to the season that put the club several points behind the Vegas Golden Knights, Colorado had to battle both their Sin City neighbors and the suddenly hip Minnesota Wild for division supremacy all the way to the final week of the season. The trio of teams routinely waxed the rest of the Western competition, earning point after point as they each escalated towards the upper echelon of the NHL.
But in the end, the Avalanche won the first (and potentially only) Honda West Division crown, a position good enough to sit them atop the entire NHL pecking order as well. Colorado and Vegas each finished with 82 points, two in front of the next closest team, a dangerous Carolina Hurricanes squad that earned 80 points. The Avs took the top spot thanks to the first standings tiebreaker, with their 35 regulation wins, compared to the Knights’ 30, being the ultimate difference.
On Thursday night, the Avalanche needed one win against the Los Angeles Kings to claim their spot. A second-period bloodbath ensured that fate, as Tyson Jost’s two-goal flurry began a Colorado run of five straight tallies. The club rolled to a 5-1 victory against a Kings team with little to play for.
Here’s what stood out from a memorable night:
One day after watching J.T. Compher explode with a three-goal game, young center Tyson Jost put on an offensive show of his own. With Nathan MacKinnon held out to avoid aggravating an injury, Jost centered Gabriel Landeskog and Mikko Rantanen en route to an impressive performance.
The former 10th overall pick has cemented his role on the team throughout the year, an odyssey that took him from a maligned to majestic standing among much of the fanbase. In the first half of the season, despite a lack of points, the energy and precision the quick skater brought to the penalty kill helped him find a rhythm that seemed to also aid his offensive play later in the campaign. He scored 14 points in the latter half of the year, opposed to the three he had prior.
Two of those points came on Thursday, in quick succession. Jost erased a 1-0 deficit with a wrister midway through the second period, before putting the Avalanche ahead for good a couple of minutes later. He drifted through the offensive zone to find an opening near the front of the net, then poked home an astute pass from the increasingly dynamic Conor Timmins.
Suddenly the floodgates were open. Jost continued to be dangerous for the rest of the night, launching seven shots on net whilst in search of a hat trick. He was phenomenal in transition between Landeskog and Rantanen, as he was for most of the four recent games against the Kings. The more Jost is a difference-maker, the better the Avs’ depth will be in the playoffs.
The Avalanche will begin their 2021 Stanley Cup run on Monday night, when they will host the St. Louis Blues at Ball Arena. Many pundits are projecting the series to lean heavily in the Avs’ favor. Like, really in the Avs’ favor:
Colorado has been a statistical darling since the first puck drop of the season, largely because the team’s ability to control shots and possession in every facet of the game. The Avs lead the league in shots on goal by hundreds, and have procured possession numbers akin to juggernauts like the 2008-09 Detroit Red Wings and 2009-10 Chicago Blackhawks.
The Avalanche roster is hellish to play against, particularly when the depth is clicking. Sure enough, they’re starting to heat up again.
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Joonas Donskoi scored twice in two nights after an extended drought. Compher scored a huge goal in Las Vegas on Monday before his dominant play in the Avs’ penultimate contest. Jost was electric on Thursday. P.E. Bellemare found twine twice against the Kings. When they’re going, few can produce chances and goals the way Colorado can. Andre Burakovsky ended the season on an eight-game scoring streak.
The St. Louis Blues will not mess around in the upcoming playoff series. They’ll play hard and give themselves opportunities to compete against the favored Avs. But if Colorado continues their process, and the depth keeps backing up the inevitably strong performances from the team’s top guys, good times could be ahead for the burgundy and blue.
But the playoffs are still a couple of days off. For now, the Avalanche should be proud of how they played this season. Going toe-to-toe with Vegas and Minnesota was no easy feat. Now, no matter what happens from here, Colorado can officially say they’re presidential once again.