The Colorado Avalanche advanced to the Second Round of the 2022 Stanley Cup Playoffs after completing their sweep over the Nashville Predators in the First Round. The methodical effort from the Avalanche reflected that of an ultra-determined group.
Here are a few takeaways from the Avalanche's First Round:
The Avalanche executed a full-team effort in the First-Round as they had 16-of-19 skaters record at least a point.
Makar paced the team with 10 points (3G, 7A), including three different three-point outings. His 10 points are the most in NHL history by a defenseman through four games in a postseason. Nathan MacKinnon scored in all four games producing five goals and six points in that span, which marks the longest goal streak to start a playoff year infranchise history and second longest in franchise history behind Michel Goulet's five-game run to open the 1985 postseason with Quebec.
The only ones who get on the scoresheet did not were Nicolas Aube-Kubel, Darren Helm and Logan O'Connor. And while Aube-Kubel, Helm and O'Connor didn't get on the scoresheet, they all made their impact in other ways. Kubel threw the second-most hits in the series with 19, including a seven in Game 4. O'Connor screened the play on Makar's Game 2 overtime winner. Helm led the team in penalty kill minutes with 12:04, while also taking faceoffs for his line and finishing the series with a 58.1% FOW%.
Colorado's offense averaged 5.25 goals for per game, the most in the NHL throughout the series. In addition to scoring five-plus goals in three-of-the-four games, the team also put up seven goals twice in the series (Games 1 and 3). The Avs also averaged the second-most shots for per game with a nightly average of 44 shots.
Including MacKinnon, Landeskog (3G, 3A), Mikko Rantanen (0G, 5A), Valeri Nichushkin (2G, 1A), Nazem Kadri (1G, 2A), Andre Burakovsky (1G, 2A), Artturi Lehkonen (2G), J.T. Compher (2A), all recorded multi-point efforts in the four-game series.
Makar led the way with an unprecedented 10-point outing through the First Round, but the entirety of Colorado's d-core also made an impressive impact. Each of the Avalanche defenseman recorded at least a point.
Makar's d-partner Devon Toews tallied three goals and five points (3G, 2A) in the series including the game-tying goal in Game 4, when Colorado trailed for the first time.
Erik Johnson finished the series with three assists and a team-high plus-six rating. Samuel Girard handed out two helpers and blocked a team-high of 11 shots. Twenty-year-old Bowen Byram, who is getting his first taste of the postseason, registered one assist and a plus-four rating. Josh Manson also posted an assist.
In all four games, the Avalanche provided the game's icebreaker and started off each contest with the lead. And after taking the lead in all four games, Colorado only trailed once in the entirety of the four-game series which was during Game 4 for a span of just 4:57 before they managed to tie it up with a goal from Toews.
The Avalanche won the battle of special teams as they finished the series going 7-for-16 on the power play and recording the highest-producing power play in the postseason at 43.8%, including four strikes on the power play in Game 3.
"I think just quick puck movement," Rantanen said of the power play's success. "A lot of shots that we're creating good numbers at the net. With power play, I think its the puck movement and volume of shots, that's the biggest thing. We're doing a good job about that right now. It's also work ethic and that's been good so we have to keep that up."
On the penalty kill, Colorado finished the series 10-for-13 and a PK% of 76.9%.
Darcy Kuemper made the start through the first three games of the series, but left after sustaining an injury in the final minute of the first period in Game 3 on a freak accident play where Nashville's Ryan Johnansen's stick went through Kuemper's mask.
Through his two-full games and 147:29 minutes in net, Kuemper allowed only four goals against, making 57 saves on 61 shots for a SV% of .934% and a GAA of 1.63.
In his place, Pavel Francouz took over in Game 3 and started in Game 4. Francouz made 46 saves on 51 shots, allowing five goals through 100:57 minutes. In total, he earned a SV% of .902 SV% and a GAA of 2.97.
NEXT MAN UP:
In addition to Kuemper going down and Francouz taking his place, Andrew Cogliano suffered an upper-body injury in Game 1 and did not play the remainder of the series.
In his place, O'Connor drew back in the lineup after being a healthy scratch, which he noted was a 'disappointment' after dressing in 81 of 82 regular season games. That being said, O'Connor made the most of the opportunity to return to the lineup and Cogliano has been showing promising signs as he's been skating with the team and per Avalanche Head Coach Jared Bednar, he will be, "A full participant available for [the Second Round]."
As effective as the Avalanche's offense was in the series, their defensive game was just as impactful and stifling.
Colorado smothered Nashville's offense, particularly its top producers in captain and Norris Trophy Finalist - just like Makar - Roman Josi, and its top line of Filip Forsberg, Mikael Granlund and Matt Duchene. During the four-game regular season meetings, Josi led his squad with six points (2G, 4A), while the Predators' top line combined for 13 points (6G, 7A).
In the postseason, the Avalanche held Josi to two points (1G, 1A), Duchene to four points (3G, 1A), Granlund to (3A) and Forsberg to one goal.
Colorado also held the Predators to single digit shots in five periods; two periods - first and third - in Game 1, two periods - second and third period - of Game 2 and the first period of Game 3.
"I think the whole team is really buying into the defensive side," Burakovsky said. "We're not rushing, we're taking care of what we have take care of before we go to offense. I think everyone is buying into sacrifice and blocking shots and really doing the right things out there. That's really important in the playoffs. It's great to see that everyone is on the same page."
Part of the test of playoff hockey is the heightened intensity as both sides battle for every inch of the ice. The Avalanche were presented with the increased challenge of taking on the most physical team in the NHL during the regular season in the Predators who threw a league-high 2,470 hits.
Nashville didn't let up in the postseason where they led the league with 215, but that being said, Colorado didn't back down from the physical challenge. The Avalanche threw 192 hits, led by Landeskog who finished the series with 27 hits.
"I liked that aspect of our game," Bednar said. "I liked that aspect of our game. That's as physical of a team as you're going to play in our conference. They came at us physically in all four games. I liked our pushback. Our guys ramped it up as we needed and were still able to play to our identity. We stayed disciplined through the series as well. Now that it's done, I think it was a good matchup for us in the First Round. It got our guys engaged in the series right away."
The Avalanche will continue to maximize this window of rest and will return to practice this week as they await the end result between the St. Louis Blues and Minnesota Wild. The Blues currently leads the series 3-2, with Game 6 - their chance to clinch and advance to the Second Round - scheduled for Thursday night in St. Louis.