The 2021-22 regular season and playoffs were historic for the Colorado Avalanche. The team finished with 119 points in the regular season and lost only four postseason games, both franchise records, on their way to winning the club’s first Stanley Cup in 21 years.
It was a season that produced more than its share of highlight reel moments and awe-inspiring play. While many of the most memorable moments were from the playoffs, two from the regular season also make this list.
Like any top 10 list, this is highly subjective and the sole opinion of this writer. THW would love to see your thoughts on this list — your additions, deletions, and arguments — in the comments section below.
Number 10: Five-Goal First Period Against the Predators
The Avalanche finished the final seven games of the regular season with a 1-5-1 record, limping into the playoffs. It’s true that head coach Jared Bednar, in an effort to have his team ready for the postseason, was resting players over the final 10 days of the campaign. But still, there was palpable anxiety in Avalanche-nation, with fans wondering if their team would have its fourth consecutive early exit from the playoffs.
Colorado put those fears to rest in the first game of Round 1 vs. the Nashville Predators, scoring five unanswered goals in the first period. The goals came from five different players — Nathan MacKinnon, Devon Toews, Andrew Cogliano, Cale Makar, and Artturi Lehkonen — with Cogliano’s goal a short-handed effort.
The Avalanche never looked back after that first period, sweeping the Predators in four games.
Number 9: Cale Makar’s Unreal Overtime Winner
This is one of two regular season highlights on the list. While Makar did have an overtime winner in the playoffs (Game 2 vs. Nashville), it was his overtime winner on Jan. 4 against the Chicago Blackhawks that makes the top 10.
The goal was one of the most electric of the season in the entire NHL. It propelled Makar to center stage as a true generational talent and helped pave the way to his first Norris Trophy for best defenseman in the league.
Number 8: Manson’s Game 1 Overtime Winner vs. the Blues
After rolling through the Predators in four games, the Avalanche did not want to start their Round 2 series against the St. Louis Blues with a home loss.
Colorado outplayed the Blues in Game 1 but ran into an epic performance by Blues goaltender Jordan Binnington. Binnington stopped 51 of 53 shots before Avalanche defender Josh Manson found the back of the net at 8:02 of the first overtime period.
Manson, a trade deadline acquisition by Joe Sakic, then the Avalanche executive vice president and general manager, was brought in to add size and physicality to the blue line. His three goals and five assists in the playoffs were by far the highest marks of his career and were an unexpected and welcome addition to Colorado’s offensive output.
Off that effort, Colorado re-signed Manson to a four-year deal worth $4.5 million per year.
Number 7: Lehkonen’s Overtime Winner Sends Colorado to Cup Final
In the 2021 Stanley Cup Final, Lehkonen, then with the Montreal Canadiens, scored a Game 6 overtime goal to defeat the Vegas Golden Knights and send his team to the Stanley Cup Final against the Tampa Bay Lightning.
Like Manson, Lehkonen was a trade deadline acquisition by the Avalanche, who they brought in to shore up the team’s scoring depth. It turned out to be a prescient move by Sakic, as Lehkonen had a stellar postseason, tallying eight goals and six assists in 20 playoff games. None was bigger than the overtime winner against the Edmonton Oilers in Game 4 of the Western Conference Final. For the second straight year, Lehkonen sent his team, this time the Avalanche, to the Stanley Cup Final against the Tampa Bay Lightning. The postseason effort earned Lehkonen a five-year contract extension with Colorado, worth $4.5 million a year.
Number 6: Francouz Shutout Against Edmonton
When Darcy Kuemper, Colorado’s goaltender, left Game 1 of the Western Conference Final against the Oilers with a lower-body injury, it set the stage for Pavel Francouz, Colorado’s number two goaltender, to enter the fray.
Francouz had appeared in two games in the Round 1 series against the Predators, one in relief of an injured Kuemper and one as the starter; he won both games. When he entered Game 1 against the Oilers, he surrendered three goals on 21 shots, doing just enough to preserve Colorado’s 8-6 victory in what was a wild, offensive battle.
All eyes turned to Francouz when he started Game 2. Would he be able to do enough to keep his team in the game and in the series? How would he match up against Connor McDavid, Leon Draisaitl, and Evander Kane, one of the most potent scoring combinations in the league?
Francouz shocked many observers by stopping all 24 shots he faced, earning his second career postseason shutout, and giving Colorado a 2-0 lead in the series. He went on to win the next two games in net, leaving him with a perfect 6-0 record in the 2022 Stanley Cup Playoffs.
Number 5: The Avalanche’s Immaculate January
The other regular season highlight on this list is actually an entire month of highlights. The Avalanche entered January 2022 with 36 points in the standings, which was only good enough for fourth place in the Central Division. After a 15-0-1 run, the team exited the month with 67 points and the best record in the Central Division and Western Conference. Their 15 January wins tied the 2013 Pittsburgh Penguins and 2014 Boston Bruins for most wins in a single month in NHL history.
Number 4: MacKinnon’s Playoff Hat Trick
Nathan MacKinnon’s hat trick in Game 5 of Colorado’s Round 2 series against the Blues might have been higher on this list if the Avalanche hadn’t lost the game. Still, MacKinnon’s third goal that night was nothing short of spectacular.
The performance showcased MacKinnon’s skill as a truly elite player. His 13 total postseason goals tied Edmonton’s Evander Kane for most in the league.
Number 3: Helm’s Game 6 Winner Against the Blues
After losing in Round 2 of the playoffs in each of the previous three seasons, the Avalanche and their fanbase were feeling cursed. When MacKinnon’s Game 5 hat trick (see above) wasn’t enough to secure the win and advance the team to the Western Conference Final, a nervous pall lay over the city of Denver. What more did they need to do to win?
The Blues took a 2-1 lead into the third period of Game 6, and the level of anxiety only increased. J.T. Compher’s power-play goal halfway through the period tied the game and set the stage for Darren Helm’s overtime heroics.
When I asked fellow THW writers to identify their number one moment of the year (other than the lifting of the Cup), Marko Zlomislic tagged Helm’s goal as his top play: “So much anxiousness about whether they would fail to close out another series, and another overtime seconds away, were just erased by an unexpected playoff hero.”
Helm, who had won a Stanley Cup with the Detroit Red Wings in 2008, re-signed with the Avalanche for the upcoming season on a one-year deal worth $1.25 million.
Number 2: Nazem Kadri’s Playoff Hat Trick and Overtime Winner
Sometimes an athlete’s performance can transcend sport and remind us there are more important things than the game being played. Nazem Kadri’s Game 4 hat trick against the Blues, along with his overtime winner in Game 4 against the Lightning, did just that.
In Game 3 of the series with the Blues, Kadri was charging hard to the puck, which was loose just in front of the St. Louis goal. He was closely defended by St. Louis blueliner Calle Rosen. The two entered the crease, colliding hard with Binnington, the Blues’ goaltender. Binnington landed awkwardly, injuring his knee and ultimately knocking him out of the playoffs.
Kadri had a history of questionable play, including an open-ice hit on Blues defenseman Justin Faulk in Round 2 of the 2021 playoffs; that hit led to an eight-game suspension for Kadri.
The experience humbled the Avalanche center. In an open letter to fans, Kadri wrote: “I hate letting people down, I really do. And when I looked up from the ice and saw Justin lying there … I knew what was coming. I knew. When I was sitting in the penalty box, my mind was just spinning. I was frustrated with myself, with the situation. I wanted to be anywhere else. It was a bang-bang play and I made a mistake. I’m never trying to hurt anyone out there. I know people might not want to hear any of this, or they’ve already made their minds up about me. I get that.” (From ‘I Am Who I Am,’ The Players Tribune, May 4, 2022)
He was a different player throughout the 2021-22 season. He used his considerable talents to transform himself from being a player on a team to being a team player. His 59 assists were double any previous season, and his ratio of assists to goals was the highest of his career. (He had 2.1 assists for every goal last season. His career average prior to that was 1.2 assists for every goal.)
After the accidental hit on Binnington, Kadri received threats against his family and his life, along with no shortage of bigoted attacks (Kadri is Muslim). Binnington, in one of the strangest moments of the playoffs, threw an empty water bottle at Kadri while the latter was doing a postgame interview.
Kadri stayed above the fray. He kept his cool and kept his comments thoughtful and measured. He let his on-ice play do the talking. The hat trick not only helped propel his team to a Game 4 victory, giving Colorado a commanding 3-1 lead in the series, but it also showed the power and beauty of sports.
Beyond his Game 4 hat trick, Kadri also had a Game 4 overtime winner in the Cup Final against Tampa Bay. Fellow THW writer Kerry Collins identified this as his best moment from last season: “[Kadri] was just back from injury, hadn’t played in almost three weeks, still had trouble holding the stick, and it ended up being arguably the biggest goal of the season for Colorado.”
Kadri went on to become the first Muslim player to lift the Stanley Cup.
Number 1: Landeskog’s Hoists the Cup
Okay, yes, this is kind of obvious. But to Avalanche fans, watching team captain, Gabriel Landeskog, hoist the Cup on the ice in Tampa Bay will likely never get old.
There were many other moments throughout the season and postseason that could arguably be on this list: The near-perfect performance in Game 2 against the Lightning in the Stanley Cup Final, the three-goal comeback against the Bruins to preserve the undefeated January (with yet another Makar overtime winner), or even the series of trade deadline moves made by Sakic. It was a season the Avalanche and their fans will likely never forget.