The Colorado Avalanche have had lofty goals of ‘Stanley Cup or Bust’ for the last couple of seasons. They’re one win away from getting that chance. The Avs moved to 6-0 on the road in the postseason, downing the Edmonton Oilers 4-2 on Saturday in Game 3 of the Western Conference Final.
The win put Colorado just one victory away from the Stanley Cup Final, a place they haven’t reached since winning the Cup in 2001. This was the first year the Avs advanced past the second round since 2002.
Here are three takeaways from Saturday’s Game 3 victory:
Nichushkin’s Scoring Punch Returns
Valeri Nichushkin had gone four games without a point in these playoffs. He did more than kick his slump on Saturday, scoring a pair of goals to lift the Avalanche to the victory. After Edmonton got a goal in the first minute, Nichushkin got a little lucky. He took a shot from the left circle that deflected off Darnell Nurse’s stick and past Oilers goalie Mike Smith.
Nichushkin’s second goal gave Colorado the lead early in the second, as he whipped in a shot from the slot. Entering this postseason, Nichushkin had just one multi-point playoff game in his career. That came back on Aug. 30, 2020, when he scored two goals in the second round against the Dallas Stars, his former team. Nichushkin had a two-assist game in Game 4 against the St. Louis Blues in these playoffs but hadn’t scored a point since.
Nichushkin is coming off of a career year where he had career highs in goals (25), assists (27) and points (52). His previous best was 34 points in his rookie season of 2013-14. That was the only season he totaled 30 points before 2021-22. He had three games with two goals during the regular season, including one against Edmonton on April 22.
Compher Keeps Coming Up Big
J.T. Compher had a brutal start to the postseason, but he’s one of the hottest players going right now. After recording just two points through Colorado’s first nine playoff games, Compher now has five goals in his last four contests. His fifth goal in that run was arguably the biggest of them all, which is saying a lot since he scored the winner in Game 6 that clinched the second-round series against the St. Louis Blues.
Compher’s goal was the picture of hustle. After getting dinged for a penalty in the middle of the third, Compher waited for the Avalanche to kill the power play. Right as the penalty expired, Edmonton’s Evan Bouchard clanged a shot off the crossbar that bounced way out of the zone. A hustling Compher out of the box grabbed the puck and threw a shot on goal. Smith got a piece, but not one that was big enough. The shot trickled into the net for what wound up to be the game-winner.
The goal was important not just because it gave Colorado the lead. The Avalanche needed some depth scoring to step up after Nazem Kadri was knocked out of the game after a nasty check from behind by Edmonton’s Evander Kane early in the first. Kadri had a goal and three assists through the first two games of the series against the Oilers.
Toews Continues Stellar Postseason
All of the attention is on Colorado stars Nathan MacKinnon and Cale Makar, but Devon Toews continues to quietly have a very strong postseason. He had two more assists on Saturday, giving him 10 helpers in the playoffs. It was his second multi-assist game of the series, as he also had two assists in Game 1. He has a goal and six assists in the last six games.
Toews was a little bit fortunate on both assists on Saturday. The first one was on Nichushkin’s first goal, which deflected off Nurse’s stick. Toews then had the primary assist on Colorado’s second goal, which deflected off a defender right to Nichushkin, who whipped it into the net.
Along with the scoring, Toews was also very sharp defensively. In the first period alone, he broke up what looked like a golden scoring chance between Connor McDavid and Evander Kane, and he had a crucial blocked shot late in the period on a two-on-one. Toews and the Avalanche will look to close out the Oilers in Game 4 on Monday in Edmonton.
Lifelong storyteller and experienced hockey reporter that has covered everything from major juniors to the NHL. Worked for various newspapers across Minnesota and North Dakota, and now covering the Colorado Avalanche for THW.