Until Sunday afternoon, the Colorado Avalanche had only earned two playoff sweeps during their tenure in Denver. The first came in 1996, when the club buried the Florida Panthers in a Stanley Cup Final that concluded in memorable fashion. The next came in 2001, when Joe Sakic’s seven points led his team over the Vancouver Canucks in the opening round.
In both of those postseasons, Colorado won the Stanley Cup.
Now, the next generation of Avalanche players can claim a sweep of their own. As the final buzzer sounded and the handshake line commenced, the Avs skated away with a 5-2 victory over the St Louis Blues to complete their fourth straight win over their divisional rivals. In total, Colorado scored 20 goals to the Blues’ 7 in the series. It was a thorough beatdown from the series opener to the final seconds, a bout not representative of the usual trials of the Stanley Cup playoffs. Those trials are likely still to come.
But for now, the Rocky Mountain representatives can take a few well-earned days of rest as they await the conclusion of the Minnesota Wild-Vegas Golden Knights series. A bevy of players stepped up in Round 1, an effort that will need to be replicated in the coming weeks for the team to find continued success. The Avs’ efforts were led by captain Gabriel Landeskog, who paced the team both offensively, averaging two points a game against St Louis, and emotionally, bringing a consistently solid game against whatever the Blues had to offer. His beatdown of Brayden Schenn in the opener set the tone for his impact over the duration of the series.
Landeskog scored Colorado’s second goal in Game 4, finding the scoresheet along with linemates Nathan MacKinnon and Mikko Rantanen. Rantanen scored in the third period to put Colorado ahead 3-1, receiving a MacKinnon pass on a 2-on-1 and rifling a shot through the five-hole of Blues’ goalie Jordan Binnington. That goal goes along with the six assists “Big Moose” compiled during the series, several of which involving MacKinnon.
The Nova Scotian center brought down the hammer, scoring nine points in a series in which he was held scoreless in a game only once. After taking a high stick to the face in the dying seconds of the series, MacKinnon iced things for good with an emphatic empty-net tally. Each player on the top line brought the heat in Game 4.
Cohesive Effort Gives the Avs the Edge
The Avs were only trailing for 7:12 in this series. That time came in the second frame of Sunday’s contest, when Vladimir Tarasenko was sprung on a breakaway thanks to an ill-advised Patrik Nemeth pinch in the offensive zone:
But Colorado refused to go down easily or for very long. Brandon Saad received a Cale Makar pass in the high slot and rocketed a shot into the back of the net just a few minutes later. Saad was brought into Colorado’s lineup to score goals on big stages, and with goals in each of the last three contests, it looks like he’s ready to do just that.
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Players like Saad are what make Colorado that much scarier to play against: they can come in waves of consistent, cohesive attack. Depth is what prevails in the Stanley Cup playoffs, as top-end players need a solid foundation in order to survive long-term in such a cutthroat environment. Andre Burakovsky and Joonas Donskoi are guys to look out for in the next round, and the same could be said for guys like Tyson Jost and J.T. Compher. Or Alex Newhook and P.E. Bellemare, if they shake off injuries they suffered on Sunday.
That doesn’t even mention the defense and goaltending the Avalanche possess. Makar is so good so often. But behind the scenes, Devon Toews, Samuel Girard, and the rest of the ensemble cast stopped the Blues from doing almost anything offensively for most of Game 4. Responsible stick checks prevented a variety of zone entries. A relentless backcheck limited chances consistently.
Anything that did get through was generally stopped by Philipp Grubauer, who remained calm and collected throughout the series. Colorado’s system and personnel make his life easier than it could be, but he still comes up large in moments his team needs him. Grubauer now owns a 15-6 playoff record while with the burgundy and blue, backstopping them in each of their series wins over the past three seasons.
The Avalanche are firing on all cylinders, a force the Blues were the unlucky recipients of. Now, the second round awaits. In each of the two previous years, the team has fallen in seven games. A difficult opponent will meet the Avs within the week, and their bout will likely be an extended affair. But if Colorado keeps up the play they’ve developed as May has proceeded they’ll be in good shape. So many on the roster are able to step up and be a hero on any given night, whether on offense, defense, or in goal.
We’ll just have to see who it is that steps up next.