After two home wins to begin the 2021 Stanley Cup Playoffs, a clear pattern had emerged for the Colorado Avalanche: let the big dogs eat, and success will follow.
But after Friday night against the St. Louis Blues, the Avs can more confidently rely on the small dogs to chip in as well. As the final buzzer sounded, the team skated off with a 5-1 victory. Nathan MacKinnon, Mikko Rantanen, Gabriel Landeskog, and Cale Makar combined for just two points. Instead, unlikely heroes emerged from across the Avalanche roster. Ryan Graves, Alex Newhook, and Tyson Jost came to play.
Leading the charge was defenseman/birthday boy Graves, who opened the scoring in the second period by cashing in on an ill-fated Jordan Binnington gamble. Graves then assisted on Colorado’s second goal, a tally which held quite a bit of significance. The 6-foot-5 defender successfully cleared the puck out of the Avalanche’s end with a pass up to Valeri Nichushkin, who sent the puck up to rookie Newhook.
Newhook released a shot that careened around the boards and back to Graves, who released a bomb that bounced off of Binnington and right back to Newhook. The rookie center wasted no time, rocketing his first NHL goal past the Blues’ netminder.
The increasingly popular Jost scored later on in the second, and after St. Louis scored a shorthanded goal to make it 3-1, Colorado was able to close the door in the final frame. Brandon Saad scored his second of the postseason on a beautiful backhand play, and J.T. Compher hit a bank shot into an empty net to round out a monster night for the Avalanche’s depth scoring.
Winning in a New Way, and What it Means
The Blues outplayed the Avalanche for a majority of the contest. It was their first home game of the series, their backs were against the wall, and they threw everything they had at Colorado. They out-shot, out-hit, and out-chanced their opponents, but couldn’t find a way to solve a calm and collected Philipp Grubauer.
The most common criticism against the Avalanche going into both the 2021 regular season and playoffs was an unbelief in their goaltending. While the Avs’ defense has made life easy a majority of nights for Grubauer, he’s still answered the call time and time again while posting career numbers all season long. Now, he’s shown he can do the same in the playoffs, both in easy games like the series opener, and in tough games like the latest contest. He doesn’t play flashy, he plays consistent. For Colorado, that’s all they could ask for.
The difference between good teams and championship-caliber teams is the amount of weaknesses they possess. Good teams will have a few star players, or a solid defense, or an excellent goaltender. It’s much less common to see an outfit that contains all three. But those are the kinds of teams who win Stanley Cups. The Tampa Bay Lightning did that last year (the previous year’s performance notwithstanding). The Chicago Blackhawks, Los Angeles Kings, and Pittsburgh Penguins ruled the previous decades with deep, dangerous squads. The Detroit Red Wings routinely iced some of the scariest lineups of all time in the era before that. All of those teams could find ways to win, even on “bad” nights.
The Avalanche may soon be remembered with a similar respect as those teams. They are deep, and they are committed to winning hockey games. When the top guys went quiet, the next guys stepped up. A few years ago, that likely wouldn’t have been the case.
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General manager Joe Sakic and coach Jared Bednar have worked hard to build a team capable of withstanding and thriving in all sorts of circumstances, including nights where they shouldn’t win. Last night, Colorado shouldn’t have won. Instead, they blew out the Blues 5-1 and have a commanding 3-0 lead in their series. Most importantly to them, they’re one step closer to the Stanley Cup.
That next step will be on Sunday afternoon, at 5 p.m. ET. We’ll have to wait and see who steps up for them then.
Avery is a writer covering the Colorado Avalanche. He is graduating in April with a B.A. in English and Mass Communication. He has previously worked for The Puck Authority covering the Rapid City Rush and for NGU Vision Media as their News Editor. He is a board game enthusiast and enjoys spending time with others.