The Colorado Avalanche overcame history to defeat the St. Louis Blues 3-2 on a last-minute goal Friday night, advancing to the Western Conference Final for the first time in 20 years. Colorado won the second-round series four games to two.
The Avalanche, who outshot the Blues 39-20, didn’t lead in the game until there were six seconds left in the third period, having come from behind twice to tie the contest. They outplayed the Blues from the drop of the puck, but had the challenge of overcoming a stellar performance from Blues’ goaltender Ville Husso. Here are three takeaways from the game.
Unlikely Heroes for the Avalanche
After Nazem Kadri’s hat trick in Game 4, and Nathan MacKinnon’s hat trick in Game 5, the question was which Avalanche superstar would step up for Game 6. The answer, none of them.
Two of Colorado’s three goals came from third-line forward J.T. Compher, with the final goal coming from fourth-line veteran Darren Helm. It was the first time this postseason both Compher and Helm found the back of the net, and it spoke to the depth of this Avalanche squad. Sixteen players have at least one goal in the playoffs for Colorado. Compare that to St. Louis, who had 11 skaters tally a goal, and Colorado’s depth is apparent.
Helm’s goal with just under six seconds left, beat Husso through traffic on his glove side. This was Helm’s 92nd playoff game, most of those starts coming with the Detroit Red Wings. He has 12 goals over that span, none more timely than the game-winner last night.
Other role players, notably Andrew Cogliano and Logan O’Connor, had impactful games for the Avalanche. Colorado’s forecheck kept the Blues pinned in their zone time and again, and preventing them from breaking the puck out.
Tale of Two Goaltenders
Husso was brilliant in goal for St. Louis. He stopped 36 of 39 shots on goal, with a save percentage (SV%) of .923. The second Avalanche goal from Compher was the only moment in the game where Husso looked human. He kept his team in the game through all three periods.
On the other side of the ice, Darcy Kuemper was adequate. Colorado’s best save of the night was actually made by defenseman Josh Manson, who alertly moved to the goal line after Kuemper had overcommitted on a shot from Jordan Kyrou and found himself sprawled on the ice outside of his crease. With Kuemper down, Kyrou lined up his shot and fired, but not before Manson was able to establish himself in front of the net to make the save. (Technically, on the score sheet, it counts as a blocked shot rather than a save.)
Kuemper has a 2.44 goals-against average (GAA) and a .904 SV% this postseason, which ranks 11th among all goalies with at least five starts this postseason. The challenge from here only gets harder, as he faces Connor McDavid, Leon Draisaitl, and a rejuvenated Evander Kane in the next round. Head coach Jared Bednar will have a relatively short leash with Kuemper, and fans should not be surprised to see backup goaltender Pavel Francouz at some point during the next series.
Concern Over Rantanen
Mikko Rantanen has scored one goal this postseason, an empty net in Game 4 vs. St. Louis. While he does have 10 assists and is averaging better than a point a game, his lack of goalscoring will become magnified as the Avalanche prepare for the red hot Edmonton Oilers in the Conference Final.
In his playoff career, Rantanen’s numbers are gaudy. He has 19 goals and 44 assists in 53 career postseason games. That’s an average of 1.19 points per game and .36 goals per game. When you factor out this year’s performance, his goals per playoff game jumps to .42
Whether Rantanen is playing through an undisclosed injury, or whether his game has just taken a step sideways, he’ll be one of Bednar’s prime concerns in the next round. It would be a surprise to see Bednar bench Rantanen, but unless he starts producing, and quickly, the Avalanche are going to need to find another solution.
Up Next: the Western Conference Finals
The Edmonton Oilers, who defeated the Calgary Flames in five games, will head to Denver for Game 1 of the Western Conference Final next week. Both teams have explosive offenses, and both have questions in net. Kuemper (see above) has been pedestrian, and Oilers netminder Mike Smith has been inconsistent. His numbers, a .927 SV% and a 2.70 GAA are solid, but he’s been adventure in net at times.
Fans should expect a high-scoring shootout between these two clubs, as Avalanche superstar Nathan MacKinnon goes head-to-head against Connor McDavid, widely considered the best player on the planet.
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.