In one of the most unpredictable first rounds in NHL Stanley Cup Playoff history, the Colorado Avalanche is staying hungry and feeling confident looking toward to the second round.
The Avalanche, the eighth seed in in the Western Conference, advanced to the next stage of the Stanley Cup Playoffs after it defeated the Calgary Flames, the West's regular-season champions, in the first round. The series lasted five games, including four-straight wins for Colorado. It was the first opening series victory for the club since 2008.
Calgary (107 points) finished the 2018-19 campaign second in the league behind the Tampa Bay Lightning (128 points), who was eliminated in four games by the Columbus Blue Jackets. It is the first time in NHL history that the top two teams in each conference, and the clubs with the two best regular-season records, have been ousted in the opening round of the playoffs.
"We're an eight seed, but I think if you look at our overtime losses, we take half of those away and we're fighting for the division," said defenseman Tyson Barrie. "So, it just goes to show that all you got to do is get in and everything can kind of happen. We're keeping that attitude going forward."
Confidence is key to maintaining momentum in the stretch between the Game 5 victory and Game 1 of the second round. With multiple series' in the first round extending to seven contests, Colorado has time to rest and reload before continuing its postseason play.
"We were feeling really good at the end of that series and now we have about a week off," Barrie said. "We've had our two days off and we're going to skate today, tomorrow, maybe have another day off in there. I think the key is just the intensity that we skate with on the ice, executing and making sure we're not taking our foot off the pedal."
Colorado held a full-team practice at Family Sports Center in Centennial on Monday. The only player absent from the ice was Carl Soderberg, who was held off due to illness. Samuel Girard (upper body) and Vladislav Kamenev (shoulder) participated in the skate wearing red, non-contact jerseys and Derick Brassard, who missed the final three outings of the first round with an illness, returned as a full participant.
"I don't have a timeframe on him yet," said head coach Jared Bednar of Girard. "He's still in a non-contact jersey. Took some contact after practice, we'll see how that goes and see how he progresses during the week."
The Avalanche does not yet know who its next round opponent will be. The team will play the winner of the San Jose Sharks-Vegas Golden Knights series, which will be determined in Game 7 on Tuesday.
"Personally, I don't even know what would be a better matchup: Vegas or San Jose," said center Nathan MacKinnon. "They have their own strengths and they're both really, really good teams. But we beat the second-best team in the league, in terms of their record in the regular season, in five and that's going to boost any team's confidence."
As the eighth seed, Colorado will start the second-round series on the road. They will again be considered the underdog in the matchup.
"I think we enjoy that role," said captain Gabriel Landeskog. "We've been able to embrace it, we don't really have much pressure on us other than the pressure we put on ourselves to succeed and to do well every day. I still see us as underdogs and I think we're just going to keep embracing that role.
"We didn't fight this hard to A, get in the playoffs and B, fight this hard against the Flames to move on and not do more damage. For us, we're just getting going it feels like. We're obviously playing well here as of the last month or so and we want to keep this thing going."
Practice Line Combinations
Gabriel Landeskog - Nathan MacKinnon - Alexander Kerfoot
Colin Wilson - Derick Brassard - Mikko Rantanen
Matt Nieto - J.T. Compher - Matt Calvert
Gabriel Bourque -Tyson Jost - Sven Andrighetto
Ian Cole - Erik Johnson
Nikita Zadorov - Tyson Barrie
Patrik Nemeth - Cale Makar
Mark Barberio - Ryan Graves
Head Coach Jared Bednar on Nathan MacKinnon: "He was a difference maker every night for us, dangerous every time he touched the puck. Highly competitive on the defensive side of things--he played physical. I can see why he (Calgary Defenseman Mark Giordano) feels that way. He is one of the best players in the world and if he continues to play like that he's tough to handle for any team."
Video: Bednar on preparing for the second round
Left Wing Gabriel Landeskog on looking forward: "You get your name on the Cup for a reason. That's when you're the last team standing, and you win the last game of the season and that's the goal. Anything else is a goal not achieved, I wouldn't call it failure, but we play this game for a reason. We put all the work in for a reason and that's to lift the Cup at the end of the day. For us, great job finishing the Flames and moving on, but we're looking to stay going."
Video: Gabriel Landeskog on preparing for Round 2
Center Nathan MacKinnon on the team's accomplishments: "We won a round. It feels good, I've never won a round, but for a lot of guys that's expected. That's what I've said before, the culture around here isn't just to make the playoffs, it's to win a Cup and to be a Stanley Cup contender."
Defenseman Erik Johnson on playoffs: "For us, there's been a lot of fun hockey down the stretch here. We had to scratch and claw to get our way in. But, for the first time in NHL history, both number one seeds got eliminated, so you never know what can happen in the playoffs."
Video: Erik Johnson on the Avs advancing to Round 2
Defenseman Tyson Barrie on resting before Round 2: "I think our practices aren't going to change much. We're all professionals and we know if we need to push ourselves a little bit harder or if we need to take a day off the ice. Whatever it is, at this point in the season you have to know your body and be professional enough to go about it the right way. We're just staying with the same routine, staying with the same things that have been working for us. Obviously, it is quite a bit of time off between games, but we'll be ready to go for Game 1."
Video: Tyson Barrie after Colorado's practice