The Colorado Avalanche traveled back to Tampa to face the Lightning in Game 6 of the Stanley Cup Final last night, looking to close out the series and avoid a Game 7. After falling behind 1-0 early, Colorado used its speed and skill to shut the Lightning down and secure a 2-1 win, bringing the Stanley Cup back to Denver for the first time since 2001.
The series between the defending champion Lightning and the Avalanche, who were favorites to win the Cup, did not disappoint. While each team notched one blow-out victory—the Avalanche 7-0 winners in Game 2, and the Lightning 6-2 winners in Game 3—the other four games were all decided by a single goal, two of them in overtime.
The biggest question for Colorado heading into Game 6 was goaltender Darcy Kuemper. With soft goals allowed in each of the two previous games, the Avalanche needed a big performance from their 32-year-old netminder, and he delivered as he stopped 22 of 23 shots and looked solid between the pipes throughout.
The Avalanche also outshot the Lightning 30-23. Here’s a look at the game, and the postseason run by the Avalanche, by the numbers.
16 Wins and Only 4 Losses for Avalanche
Colorado’s 16-4 postseason record is tied for second-best in the league since the NHL implemented the four-round, best-of-seven format 35 years ago. Only the 1988 Edmonton Oilers, a team that included both Wayne Gretzky and Mark Messier, did better, completing their Stanley Cup run with 16 wins and only two losses.
Favored to win the Stanley Cup before the season even started, the Avalanche were slow out of the gate, going 4-5-1 in their first 10 games. They found their stride quickly and started the new year with a bang, as the club tied the record for the most wins in a single month in January 2022, going 15-0-1 in 31 days. Head coach Jared Bednar rested players down the stretch, and the team limped into the playoffs, finishing the regular season 1-5-1, and missing out on the Presidents’ Trophy to the Florida Panthers by a mere three points.
But when the playoffs began, Colorado turned on the jets. They swept the Nashville Predators in the opening round, took the St. Louis Blues in six games in Round 2, and swept the Edmonton Oilers in the Western Conference Final before advancing to face Tampa Bay for the championship. The Avalanche ended up winning the deciding game in all four series on the road.
5 Trophies for Makar
Avalanche defenseman Cale Makar, with 29 total points in the postseason, was named the winner of the Conn Smythe Trophy for the most valuable player in the playoffs.
At only 23 years old, the Calgary, Alberta native is no stranger to impressive hardware. He was the recipient of the Hobey Baker Award for the best collegiate hockey player in 2019, the winner of the Calder Trophy for the NHL’s best rookie in 2020, and the Norris Trophy for the league’s best defenseman this year. And of course, he also added the Stanley Cup to that remarkable list of honors. Makar joins Hall of Famers Bobby Orr and Nicklas Lidstrom as only the third player to win the Conn Smythe and the Norris Trophies in the same season.
Makar’s 29 points led the team, as did his 21 assists and his eight goals were tied for fourth-best. He also led the team with 27:04 average time on ice in the 20 games Colorado played.
Johnson’s Cup, 12 Years in the Making
Captain Gabriel Landeskog, the fourth longest-tenured captain in the league, was the first to hoist the Stanley Cup. He then passed it to Avalanche defenseman, Erik Johnson. As a 12-year veteran of the Avalanche, Johnson is not only the longest-tenured player on Colorado, but he’s also the longest-tenured player among Denver’s four major sports teams. He missed most of last season, and all of last year’s postseason, due to injury.
“Last summer,” he said to ESPN’s Emily Kaplan in a postgame interview, “I thought I might have to retire, and here I am, a Stanley Cup Champion with some of my best friends in the world.”
Johnson played all 20 postseason games this year and led all Avalanche defensemen with 79 hits. His 29 blocked shots were second only to Makar (43). The Bloomington, Minnesota native also had one goal and four assists during the playoffs.
“It’s just about believing in yourself,” he went on to tell Kaplan, “and surrounding yourself with people that believe in you, and special things can happen.”
Sakic Rewarded with 30 Trade Deadline Points
Avalanche executive vice president and general manager Joe Sakic, who has now won a Stanley Cup as both a player and a general manager with the same franchise, was busy at the trade deadline this past March, as he acquired four players to help the team achieve its goal of bringing a championship back to Denver.
Defenseman Josh Manson, and forwards Artturi Lehkonen, Andrew Cogliano, and Nico Sturm added experience and depth to an already talented team. The group rewarded Sakic with 30 total postseason points. Lehkonen in particular played at a very high level, scoring the game-winner in Game 6 against the Lightning, and the overtime winner against the Oilers in Game 4 to clinch the Western Conference Final. Lehkonen finished the postseason with eight goals and six assists.
MacKinnon’s 1.33 Points Per Game
Like Makar, Avalanche forward Nathan MacKinnon finds himself in very exclusive company. The Halifax, Nova Scotia native has scored an average of 1.33 points per game (PPG) in his postseason career. For players who have started a minimum of 50 playoff games, that puts him third on the all-time list, trailing only Gretzky (who averaged an astounding 1.84 PPG), and Mario Lemieux (1.61 PPG).
The victory was the culmination of ten years of hard work and relentless pursuit of the Cup for MacKinnon. “You could tell how bad he wanted it,” Sakic said of his superstar player after the game. “You heard his interview last year after we lost to Vegas, and you saw how disappointed he was. He’s just an amazing person, amazing hockey player. He wants to win so bad, and I’m excited for him. Maybe now he can relax and enjoy the summer a little bit.”
MacKinnon scored the first goal for Colorado last night, to tie the game at 1-1 in the second period. It was his 13th goal of the playoffs, tying Evander Kane of the Oilers for the league lead in goals scored in the postseason.
Sakic will have his hands full in the coming weeks as he deals with a number of unrestricted free agents and attempts to answer questions about the future of his team. But for now, the entire Avalanche organization and their fans will enjoy the hard-fought and well-deserved victory and will look forward to a celebratory parade in Denver this Thursday. The parade will start from Union Station and move up 17th street beginning at 10 AM.
Hockey dad, beer league hockey captain, rabid Avalanche fan. Author of five novels for young adults, including The Scar Boys, Life in a Fishbowl, and Hard Wired. Lives in Littleton, Colorado with two middle school-age kids, one awesome wife, and three pets. Voted least likely to break 100 on a golf course.