3 Issues That Caused Avalanche’s First Round Exit

It was a disappointing end to a complicated year for the Colorado Avalanche. The Game 7 first-round loss to the Seattle Kraken capped off a season full of struggles and decline for the 2022 Stanley Cup champions. While it’s fair to say that the Kraken pulled off the upset, as many expected the Avalanche to win handily – maybe even in a sweep – the loss offered a glaring look at what went wrong for the Avalanche. These are the three main factors that led to the club’s first round exit in the 2023 Stanley Cup Playoffs.

Philipp Grubauer’s Impressive Play

The former Avalanche netminder played like he had a chip on his shoulder, and all but blanked the dynamic Avalanche offensive threats in Nathan MacKinnon, Mikko Rantanen and Cale Makar. He made some incredible saves – ones that not many other goalies across the league could have made – and often shifted the momentum in the Kraken’s favor.

Philipp Grubauer Seattle Kraken
Philipp Grubauer and Jamie Oleksiak of the Seattle Kraken celebrate a win against the Colorado Avalanche in Game 7 of the First Round of the 2023 Stanley Cup Playoffs (Photo by Michael Martin/NHLI via Getty Images)

He seemed to use his knowledge of MacKinnon, Rantanen and Makar in his favour, stopping an onslaught of offense -though Rantanen did tally seven goals in the series. He seemed to have MacKinnon in particular on his radar, and his outstanding play was certainly a thorn in the side of the Avalanche. Grubauer kept the Kraken in the series and was a huge part of his team’s Round 1 victory.

No Scoring From Depth

As mentioned above, Rantanen scored an insane seven goals, which tied for the league lead in the playoffs through the first round. He and MacKinnon were on the scoresheet at least once almost every night, but a lot of the club’s depth players were virtually invisible, from Lars Eller to Logan O’Connor to Alex Newhook to J.T. Compher.

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Only Artturi Lehkonen and Evan Rodrigues offered a fair amount of points in the series, and both had increased offensive roles throughout, including extensive power play time. Rodrigues had a bit more on the line, too, as he enters the summer as an unrestricted free agent. Last year, depth is what allowed the Avalanche to hoist the Stanley Cup, but this year it didn’t offer them the same amount of security.

A Lineup Riddled With Absences

Of course, the story of the Avalanche’s regular season did not go away when the playoffs started. Injuries plagued them throughout the season, and extended into the postseason. In fact, while Josh Manson and Makar returned to the lineup, the club lost Makar to a suspension in Game 5 and Valeri Nichushkin to an off-ice issue, which caused even more holes in the already depleted roster.

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Arguably, the biggest absence is the year-long absence of captain Gabriel Landeskog, who has not played since the team won the Stanley Cup in June 2022. “Throughout this entire season, it’s felt like the playoffs have always been the one thing that no matter what, well no matter what I wasn’t going to miss that, but timelines kept getting pushed back… That’s why I wanted to do this for my teammates’ sakes and for them not to have to answer questions and speculate, but also for my sake as well, to be able to sort of have this out in the open. Obviously, we’re very hush hush about injuries and timelines and how things are going but I felt like it was important for me to get this up there,” he said in a press conference. “I’m going to continue to do everything I can to get this right and get on the other side of things.”

Final Thoughts

While people expected more from the Avalanche on the heels of their Stanley Cup victory, the issues they faced became increasingly obvious as the series progressed, from lineup holes to facing a former friend. In the offseason and as the playoffs continue, the Avalanche have a clear set of tasks to accomplish – and, in Landeskog’s case, hope for a return to health – if they want to make a deep run again next season.