The Colorado Avalanche of the late 1990s to early 2000s are considered one of most dominating teams of that generation. The Avs consisted of Hall of Fame players like their captain Joe Sakic, who is widely considered to be one of the NHL's greatest leaders of all time, and Patrick Roy who is arguably the greatest goaltender of all time.
Roy was known for his fierce competitiveness, and was not afraid to get into an opposing player's face. Roy had the impressive combination of team success and sheer dominance. He was widely considered one of the most clutch players in NHL history. Patrick Roy had won two Stanley Cups with the Montréal Canadians before being traded to the Avalanche in the 1995 season. He won two more with Colorado in 1995 and in 2001. To go along with his four rings, he also has three Conn Smythe trophies (MVP of the playoffs) and three Vezina trophies (voted best goalie of the season).
The Avalanche were an impressive team to watch, which is something you couldn't say about them since that era. The Avs since 2009 have had seven top ten first round draft picks, with five of them being in the top five. It wasn't until recently that they have begun to assert themselves as a contending team.
Fast forward to 2021-2022 and let us take a look at this year's playoff matchup against the Edmonton Oilers. As a fan of hockey, I was looking forward to a longer series. This matchup has two young, potentially, great players in Nathan MacKinnon and Connor McDavid. The Avs have their captain Gabriel Landeskog, and Mikko Rantanen, and the Oilers have Leon Draisaitl, all amazing players in their own right and every team would love to have any of them.
Hockey fans tuned in to watch two number one overall draft picks go head-to-head in MacKinnon and McDavid. I just wish I saw a more competitive series. While there were 35 goals scored in four games, the bulk of them were scored in two of the games. Oddly enough, it was the first and the last game that were the high scoring affairs.
Selfishly, I wanted this series to go six or seven games because of the quality of hockey by two superstar players, and I felt I was robbed of that with Edmonton's poor play. It wasn't their offense that was the issue, but it was their goalie Mike Smith and the Oilers defense. Their goalie situation has been a point of concern all season, considering they decided to rely on a 40-year-old career journeyman goalie who has been mediocre everywhere he has been.
Not all the fault lies on Mike Smith's pads. His support from the defense struggled as no other goalie remaining in the playoffs faced more shots on goal. The Oilers defense allowed 3.6 expected goals per 60 minutes, meaning not only were they giving up a lot of shots, but they were allowing many high quality, high percentage shots for the Avalanche. Their defense also didn't do a good job at breaking up passes to prevent those shots, allowing 85% of the Avalanches passes to be received, while also allowing 27.6 pass attempts to the slot.
It is really unfortunate for Connor McDavid because he is such a generational talent and he has put together some fantastic seasons. The Oilers organization, however, have failed to build a team around him the last few of years, as they have not been able to find the difference maker that brought them championship success.
As for what happened in this recent match, it was a fun game to watch. There were a lot of goals scored, but the Oilers just couldn't keep it together, blowing a two-goal lead in the 3rd period, and then losing the game in overtime 6-5. Four assists by Draisaitl, and a goal and two assists from McDavid wasn't enough to hold off the Avs from advancing to the Stanley Cup Final.
The man to send the Avalanche to their first Stanley Cup Final since 2001 is none other than Artturi Lehkonen. You might remember him from last year's playoffs where he also scored a series clinching goal in overtime, sending his team to the Stanley Cup Finals while he was with Montreal. The Avalanche traded for Lehkonen late in the season in March, and Colorado fans are very glad they did, especially because of his knack for scoring big time goals.
The Avalanche now sit and wait like the rest of us to see who will represent the Eastern Conference in the Stanley Cup Finals, The Lightning or the Rangers. I, like many pick the Lightning to make it to their third consecutive Stanley Cup Final. I believe their offensive has too much firepower for any team to overcome. They have the most dominate goalie on the planet the last few years in Andrei Vasilevskiy.
The Lightning have been a dynasty type of a team the last few years, and it's a stretch of success the NHL has not seen since the Chicago Blackhawks of 2010s, where the Blackhawks won three Stanley Cups in six years.
This should be a fun Stanley Cup Finals regardless of who the Avalanche face because both the Lightning and the Rangers can score, and the Avs are no stranger to the back of the net either.