The Colorado Avalanche reached the Stanley Cup Final for the first time since their 2001 title run on Monday evening, eradicating their recent reputation of being a highly-talented group of youngsters that couldn’t perform when the lights shined their brightest.
Down 3-1 early in the third period and missing one of their star players, the Avs had to dig deep, and indeed they did. They staged a scintillating third-period comeback and won in overtime on a goal by last year’s Eastern Conference Final hero and 2022 trade deadline acquisition Artturi Lehkonen to sweep the Edmonton Oilers with a 6-5 triumph in Game 4.
The victorious Avalanche will face the winner of the New York Rangers-Tampa Lightning series. The Avs will have some time to recuperate as the Lightning won Game 3 but still trail 2-1 with Game 4 looming Tuesday (8 p.m. ET, ESPN) in Tampa.
Colorado was down for most of the game, but goals scored by the likes of Devon Toews, captain Gabriel Landeskog, Nathan MacKinnon, and Mikko Rantanen put the Avs in the lead before Oilers’ Zack Kassian hit the back of the net to force overtime. Cale Makar, who scored the game’s first goal, contributed with three assists in the third period.
Albeit the Avalanche were one of the strongest teams all season, they needed some help at the trade deadline. Ultimately those critical decisions were executed by general manager Joe Sakic, the captain of the 1996 and 2001 Stanley Cup-winning teams, who acquired defenseman Josh Manson as well as Lehkonen, Nick Sturm, and Andrew Cogliano to assist in the penalty killing. One could argue that the depth of this 2022 Avalanche squad is the finest since the 2001 team.
The result was a chemical reaction, a powerhouse that went 14-2 through the first three rounds of the playoffs en route to becoming Western Conference champions, defeating the Nashville Predators, St. Louis Blues, and the Oilers along the way.
And speaking of depth, the Avalanche routed the competition despite suffering significant injuries to their core. Goaltender Darcy Kuemper is recovering from an upper-body injury from Game 2, and defenseman Sam Girard was slammed into the boards in the second round and broke his sternum, rendering him inactive for the remainder of the playoffs. Furthermore. No. 2 center Nazem Kadri missed much of Game 3 after getting boarded by Evander Kane and was also scratched from Game 4.
Sources reporting to Inside the Rink reported he had thumb surgery. While it seemed unlikely that Kadri would be available for the remainder of the postseason, the 31-year-old Canadian left the door open.
“Ya we’ll see [about being ready for the Finals],” he said on Instagram.
Overcoming adversity seems to be a running theme for the Avalanche. The 2001 team also won The Cup despite losing star forward Peter Forsberg for the final two rounds after rupturing his spleen.
Is a third Stanley Cup meant to be? We’ll have to find out.