The Colorado Avalanche are headed to Western Conference Finals
By Neil Becker
This Colorado Avalanche are on a mission.
Playing a resilient St. Louis Blues team in the best of seven Western Conference semi-finals, Colorado needed six games before accomplishing something they haven’t done since 2002 which is advancing to the third round.
Colorado, who last year lost in the second round in six games to the Vegas Golden Knights, and the year before in seven to the Dallas Stars were determined this spring to finally clear that hurdle and challenge for the Stanley Cup.
Coming off a solid regular season which saw them finish second overall and first in the Central Division with 119 points, this power house team were definitely among the favorites and for good reason to prevent the back-to-back champions Tampa Bay Lightning from winning a third straight cup.
All through the line-up Colorado has some dangerous scorers in the likes of forwards Nathan MacKinnon, Mikko Rantanen, Gabriel Landeskog, Nazem Kadri and defenceman Cale Makar to name a few. They also have some underrated shut down defenceman and solid goaltending in Darcy Kuemper.
The playoff journey this spring started off well for the Avalanche who completed a four game first round sweep against the Nashville Predators. For a fourth straight year the Avalanche made it to the second round.
Ironically enough the Avalanche ended up playing the Blues who they swept last spring in the first round.
In the series opener Colorado badly outshot the Blues by a 54-25 margin but needed overtime to pull out a 3-2 win. The Avalanche who were facing a red hot Blues goalie in Jordan Binnington, scored the overtime winner on a shot from defenceman Josh Manson at the 8:02 mark.
In Game 2, Binnington was once again clutch as he made 30 saves in helping the Blues get that much desired split with a 4-1 win at Ball Arena to even up the series heading home.
St. Louis jumped out to a 2-0 second period lead on goals from Kyrou and a power play tally from David Perron. Colorado scored an early third period power play goal from Landeskog before the Blues responded with consecutive goals from Perron with his second followed at the 18:10 mark by an empty netter from Brandon Saad to clinch the win.
When the series shifted to Enterprise Center for Game 3, Avalanche forward Nazem Kadri found himself in the center of controversy when during the first period of a 5-2 Avs win, he cut in on the Blues net and collided hard with Binnington. Binnington had to leave the game and was replaced by backup Ville Husso.
Kadri, who had a goal and two points in the win, received all sorts of threats after the game and police became involved. During this crucial third game Colorado had a 3-2 lead after two periods. In the third, they took control as Landeskog scored a big insurance marker and with less than a minute remaining in regulation Artturi Lehkonen scored the fifth goal into an empty net.
Showcasing his elite offensive talents in Game 4 was Kadri who in front of the Enterprise Center fans scored three goals and four points in leading the Avs to a 6-3 win and a commanding 3-1 series lead.
Once again Husso was in the Blues net. Husso, who two nights earlier made 19 saves followed that up with a 31 save performance in a 6-3 Avalanche win.
Colorado found themselves trailing 1-0 early in the second before they erupted for four goals in less than a five minute span from defenceman Erik Johnson. Kadri with two and defenceman Devon Toews which was the eventual turning point. Now they were in full control with a 3-1 series lead heading back home.
Looking to quickly wrap up the series Colorado couldn’t have asked for a better Game 5 start. In a game they would eventually lose 5-4 in overtime, the Avalanche got off to a strong start as they scored two first period goals from Nathan MacKinnon followed by an early third period tally from Landeskog for a 3-0 lead.
Fighting to keep their season alive St. Louis started a big comeback as Vladimir Tarasenko scored scored their first goal which was followed in the third by goals from Robert Thomas and Jordan Kyrou which with less than five minutes remaining made it a 3-3 game.
MacKinnon would complete the hattrick before Thomas with 56 seconds left in regulation scored his second of the period to force overtime where at the 3:38 mark, Blues Tyler Bozak scored in what was a season saving 5-4 win.
Back in St. Louis Game 6 was tied at 2-2 when with seconds remaining in regulation the Blues suffered tremendous heartbreak. With only six seconds left Avalanche forward Darren Helm scored his first playoff goal of the spring which turned out to be the series winner.
Hockey fans from coast-to-coast will be treated to an unbelievable Western Conference finals between the Avalanche and Edmonton Oilers.
Game 1 gets under way at Ball Arena with opening face-off scheduled for 8 p.m.