The Avalanche’s magical season just needs the Stanley Cup to be complete | Bleacher Report

Fake Images/Derek Leung

The Eastern Conference final was billed as a battle between the two best goalkeepers in the world, while the Western Conference final featured two of the best forwards in the world.

On Monday night, Nathan MacKinnon and the Colorado Avalanche outplayed Connor McDavid and the Edmonton Oilers, just as many predicted.

Not that MacKinnon is better than McDavid, although he could claim to be the second best player in the world, but the Avalanche are built to win and built to win now. The Oilers overcame poor roster construction and a midseason coaching change to get to this point, but their season ended after Colorado completed the sweep with a 6-5 overtime victory.

An Avs win always felt inevitable. They showed they belong in the Stanley Cup Final by stepping down on their opponents’ throats and not letting up, from their opening series against the Nashville Predators to their second-round victory against the St. Louis Blues. After years of disappointment in the playoffs, the narrative around the team has changed, as the Avalanche have exorcised the playoff demons and shown they know how to win when it counts, and they’ve done it convincingly.

Artturi Lehkonen scored the game-winner in extra time, which was fitting as he scored the game-winner in extra time that sent the Montreal Canadiens to the Cup final last year, but Cale Makar set up the shot with a rocket from the point, which was perhaps even more appropriate. given the way Makar has carried this team through the postseason.

The defenseman had a five-point night to bring his total to 22. His 17.43 expected goals on the way to the postseason just McDavid’s 20.68. He was named a Norris Trophy finalist for his incredible production in the regular season, and he looked just as good in the postseason. He might be the best two-way defender in the league, and he proved it by being paired with McDavid turn-by-turn.

Fake Images/Derek Leung

Colorado has a deep defense corps outside of Makar and his partner, Devon Toews. The Avalanche lost Samuel Girard in the second round when he broke his sternum against the Blues, but Bowen Byram, who has missed much of the past few seasons with concussion issues, has had a standout postseason.

According to Corey Sznajder, the Avs blueliners have proven adept at dodging pressure and avoiding turnovers.

corey sznajder @shutdown line

Disk recoveries were the top category I added to my tracking this year. It’s another way of looking at zone eixts, but more about how good defenders are at evading pressure to make plays or avoid turnovers. It’s not a surprise to see Colorado leading the playoffs.

And the defenders had to be good, especially against McDavid and Leon Draisaitl. But the Oilers provided help in that regard, particularly at the net.

Despite a characteristically dominant performance from McDavid and an unrealistic performance from a clearly limping Draisaitl, Edmonton were undone by Mike Smith’s inconsistent goalkeeping and a much deeper Colorado roster.

It’s unfortunate that fans have to wait another year to see if McDavid and Draisaitl can make it to a Stanley Cup Final, and it’s maddening for fans in Alberta to see a team with world-class players continually falling short. There were times during this run when it looked like McDavid was single-handedly winning games, dragging the Oilers from series to series.

Edmonton now has plenty of free time to decide where to go next. General manager Ken Holland has a decision to make on interim coach Jay Woodcroft, and it’s unlikely the club can afford Evander Kane. The Oilers lack depth and a No. 1 goaltender and are in serious salary-cap trouble.

That is a story for another day. For now, the focus is on Colorado.

While the Avs have been impressive, they are also banged up and their depth will be tested in the Cup final. Nazem Kadri was injured in Game 3, and is unlikely will play another game this season. He was making a case to win the Conn Smythe Trophy.

But the biggest question for the Avalanche in the next round is possibly the goal. It’s been an eventful postseason for goalkeepers across the league, and Colorado hasn’t been immune to drama. Darcy Kuemper was injured during Game 1 and missed Games 2-4.

Pavel Francouz recorded a shutout in Game 3 but allowed five goals in Game 4. Kuemper was able to back him up, which was a promising sign, and the time off will be beneficial.

A year ago, MacKinnon lamented Colorado’s lack of postseason success in a sullen press conference. The desire to rewrite the narrative has helped propel the Avs to the top, which is where a team with two players in the top five belongs.

All they have to do now is finish the job to secure the legacy.

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