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First Round

Avalanche advanced in playoffs thanks to top scorers

MacKinnon, Rantanen, Landeskog fuel first-round win against Flames

by Rick Sadowski / Correspondent

The Colorado Avalanche advanced to the second round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs for the first time since 2008 with a five-game victory in the best-of-7 Western Conference First Round against the Calgary Flames. Colorado lost Game 1 4-0 but won the next four, including a series-clinching 5-1 win in Game 5 on Friday, and outscored Calgary 17-7 in those wins.


[RELATED: Complete Flames vs. Avalanche series coverage]


The Avalanche will play the winner of the best-of-7 series between the San Jose Sharks and Vegas Golden Knights. Vegas leads 3-2 and will advance with a win at home Sunday (7 p.m. ET; NBCSN, SN, SN360, TVAS, ATTSN-RM, NBCSCA).

Here are 5 reasons the Avalanche advanced:


1. Top scorers dominated

Forwards Nathan MacKinnon, Mikko Rantanen and Gabriel Landeskog, Colorado's top three scorers during the regular season, combined for 21 points (nine goals, 12 assists) and 68 shots on goal in the series. Rantanen, who missed the final eight games of the regular season with an upper-body injury, scored nine points (five goals, four assists). MacKinnon scored eight points (three goals, five assists), and Landeskog scored four points (one goal, three assists). MacKinnon scored in overtime to win Game 2, and Rantanen's OT goal won Game 4.

"You need your best players to be your best players," Avalanche coach Jared Bednar said. "I leaned on those players heavily, and I've been doing that all year. They were exceptional. They were the difference-makers. We're getting contributions from other guys, but those guys are driving the bus and have been for some time."

Video: Avs' top line rolls over the Flames in series victory


2. Grubauer's goaltending

As well as goalie Philipp Grubauer played down the stretch to help the Avalanche clinch a playoff berth (7-0-2, 1.63 goals-against average, .953 save percentage), questions remained based on his performance with the Washington Capitals during the playoffs last season. He didn't play after allowing eight goals in the first two games of the Eastern Conference First Round against the Columbus Blue Jackets. Braden Holtby took over and helped Washington win the Stanley Cup.

But Grubauer was excellent against Calgary, going 4-1 with a 1.89 GAA and .939 save percentage. Grubauer made the save on Michael Frolik's point-blank shot in overtime of Game 2 before MacKinnon scored at 8:27 for a 3-2 win, made a highlight-reel save against Mikael Backlund early in OT of Game 4 before Rantanen scored at 10:23 for another 3-2 win, and denied Johnny Gaudreau on a penalty shot at 13:54 of the first period in Game 5 to keep Colorado ahead 1-0.

Video: COL@CGY, Gm5: Grubauer denies Gaudreau's penalty shot


3. Road, sweet road

Colorado won Games 2 and 5 at Calgary after being shut out in Game 1. The Avalanche tied the series 1-1 with the overtime win in Game 2 and eliminated the Flames by winning Game 5. Their road success in the first round was a turnaround in two ways. The Flames won 26 games at home during the regular season, the most in the Western Conference and third-most in the NHL behind the Tampa Bay Lightning (32) and Boston Bruins (29). The Avalanche were 17-16-8 on the road. Their 17 road wins were tied for 20th in the NHL and were the fewest among the 16 teams that made the playoffs.


4. Compher came through

The Avalanche rallied in the third period to win Games 2 and 4 in overtime, and forward J.T. Compher had a hand in each comeback. They were trailing 2-1 in Game 2 when Compher scored during a scramble in the crease with 2:39 remaining to make it 2-2 after Grubauer went to the bench for a sixth attacker. Colorado trailed 2-0 in the third period of Game 4 before Compher scored at 8:10 to make it 2-1. Rantanen scored the tying goal with 2:50 remaining before getting the winner in overtime.

Video: COL@CGY, Gm2: Compher buries tying goal late in 3rd


5. Defense tightened up

The Avalanche allowed 244 goals during the regular season, 16th in the NHL, but gave up 11 goals in five games to the second-best offense (289 goals), largely by neutralizing Calgary's top scorers. Flames forwards Elias Lindholm and Sean Monahan each finished with one goal and one assist, and Gaudreau had one assist. Forward Matthew Tkachuk had one assist in the last four games after scoring twice in Game 1, and defenseman Mark Giordano was limited to two assists.

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