In front of a thunderous storm of nearly 8,000 fans at Ball Arena, the Colorado Avalanche made an early, convincing case as favorites to hoist the Stanley Cup. The St. Louis Blues kept the Avs grounded in their defensive zone in the first six minutes. The team responded, however, with a stellar defensive and goaltending show, a rare Gordie Howe hat trick by captain Gabriel Landeskog (a goal, an assist, and a fight), and 50 shots on goal. Overall, the fans could not have asked for a better way for the Avs to open up the Stanley Cup Playoffs. Here are three takeaways from Monday’s 4-1 game 1 victory.
Nathan MacKinnon can do it all; hasn’t the world of hockey learned that already? Well, he just brought it to a whole new level in the playoffs. Apart from coming away with two goals and one assist on the night, the 25-year-old centerman led the team with five hits. Returning from a lower-body injury that sidelined him for the last five games of the regular season, he looked as fresh and gritty on the ice as ever.
Former Avalanche center and Blues captain Ryan O’Reily had something to say about the series, simply saying, “We’re going to beat them,” according to CBS Denver. MacKinnon responded to the friendly chirping on social media saying, “I think we can beat them too, so it’s all good,” according to Fox 31 Denver. The latter ultimately got the last word on the night and will look to continue to do more talking in the series on Wednesday night.
Makar, You Are Ridiculous
In 2019, Cale Makar was just coming out of college as the Avs’ fourth overall pick in the 2017 NHL Draft. He had an immediate impact, becoming the first defenseman to score a playoff goal in his NHL debut. The next season, he won the Calder Trophy as the NHL’s top rookie, and he has shown no signs of slowing down since then. At just the age of 22, Makar had 15 points in 15 games in last season’s playoffs. He followed this by putting up a compelling case in the regular season for this year’s Norris Trophy for best defenseman.
On the Avalanche’s first power play opportunity, Makar did not waste time capitalizing. He easily found his way to the center point and ripped one in for the first goal of the series. He continues to put on a dazzling display with his speed and a powerful slap shot from the team’s blue line.
Avalanche Continue to Play as a Defensive Unit
Speaking of the Avalanche’s blue line, the defensive group continued to truly play as a unit, something that has been a major factor in their success all season. Makar’s defensive partner Devon Toews also had some words in response to O’Reilly.
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“They can say what they want. It’s out of our control. We’re focused on what we can control,” said Toews (from “Kiszla: Why Ryan O’Reily could wreck Avalanche’s championship dream”, Denver Post, May 16 2021). “And that’s how we compete day-in, day-out, game-by-game, with the same detail to the things that make us good.”
Toews continuously slowed the Blues defensive push in the zone, while Ryan Graves made one of the most clutch blocks in front of the goal that anyone will ever see by a defenseman. The Avalanche’s defense really limited any chances for the Blues, as they were held to just 23 shots on goal.
Each time in the game it looked like the momentum was starting to shift in the Blues’ favor, like after the game-tying goal by Jordan Kyrou in the second, the defense however responded, creating several golden scoring opportunities for the team. The score could have easily been a much bigger blowout had it not been for the solid performance by Blues’ netminder Jordan Binnington. Luckily, the Avalanche also got clutch saves from their goaltender Philipp Grubauer when necessary.
If any game should set the tone for a series, it is Game 1. If Game 1 indicated anything for the series, it looks like it’ll have a physical tone, and despite the Avalanche’s dominance on Monday, the Blues certainly had their moments where they showed that they, too, will be competing in this series. Just look at Binnington’s performance in goal. If he plays that way, then there could be some tight games moving forward.
Ben Rossi covers the Colorado Avalanche for THW. He can also be found writing and co-hosting the Exit Velo Podcast for the website BackSportsPage. For BackSportsPage he covers hockey, the Oakland Athletics, Major League Baseball news, and other sports stories that stretch beyond the playing field. Graduated with a degree in Journalism from the University of Denver where he covered the Denver Pioneers college hockey program as an undergraduate staff writer for the DU Clarion.