Colorado Avalanche: Ten takeaways from round one

  

The Colorado Avalanche dispatched the St. Louis Blues in round one of the Stanley Cup Playoffs and will advance to play the winner of the Vegas and Minnesota series.

Here are ten takeaways from the first round.

1.    Brandon Saad returns red hot

Brandon Saad had been injured and only returned in game two of the playoff series. But as you would expect from a veteran player with playoff experience, he jumped right back into the play and scored a goal in games two, three, and four.

His contribution on the ice was substantial and noticed by the commentators. Saad joined the third line with Tyson Jost and Val Nichushkin and helped the third line contribute especially when the Blues shut down the Avalanches top line.

2.    Landeskog leads by example

While Gabriel Landeskog scored a Gordie Howe Hat Trick in game one of the series and did something no other Avalanche player has done for many years, it was his leadership that supported the team to win the series.

Landeskog led the way in assisting and scoring at key times in several of the games. And one can only imagine his contributions in the locker room to keep the team focused on their goal of winning the Stanley Cup one game at a time. He commented at the end of game three that “Our defensive game is what’s gonna get us through.” And while he plays a key role in the forward lineup, he also supported the defensive core to shut down the Blues in many key situations.

3.    Avs rolling four lines

We saw during the regular season how deep the Avalanche was when different lines stepped up on nights when the top line was shut down and gave the Avalanche the goals they needed for a win.

This series was no exception. With Jared Bednar understanding the strengths of each and every one of his team members, not only has he worked to create lines that have chemistry on nights when the opposition is shutting down the Avs’ strengths, he hasn’t been afraid to switch things up.

Interestingly in this series Nazem Kadri played games one and two in his usual role of centering the 2nd line. But when he was suspended Bednar commented that he wasn’t going to move anyone else up into that position because the other lines, namely three and four were clicking and he didn’t want to disrupt them. Hence the move to fill Kadri’s place with JT Compher.

4.    Phillipp Grubauer shines

What can you say about Phillip Grubauer other than he was so strong during this series. For the four games he has a 1.75 goals against average and a save percentage of .936. Over the four games in the series the Blues scored a total of seven goals from 110 shots. Colorado’s defensive core has supported Grubauer during this four game stretch, especially in a couple of instances where he found himself out of the net. Ryan Graves was amongst a number of team members saving the shots in support of Grubauer.

Phillip Grubauer came up big when he needed to. In each game he made at least one if not two spectacular saves that kept the Avalanche in the game. Many of the big saves were at times in the games that could have turned the tide the Blues way. Even though the Avalanche were the stronger team, allowing goals creates an emotional shift in a game. Grubauer didn’t let that happen very often during the series.

5.    No serious injuries (fingers crossed)

If you watched all four games, you probably saw the sacrifice the Avs players endured with all of the hits and blocked shots.  Yet Colorado came away with no serious injuries. At least until there is confirmation that Alex Newhook is not out longer-term, which is our understanding so far.

Given the physical nature of this series that is a pretty amazing feat. The Blues seemed determined to injure or take out some of the key Avalanche players, initially targeting Tyson Jost, then Samuel Girard. Mikko Rantanen and Joonas Donskoi were also being targeted. But while players fell awkwardly or were tossed hard into the boards, no one sustained serious enough injury to take them out of the game long term.

6.    Defense, defense, defense

Watching Colorado’s defensive core of Samuel Girard, Devon Toews, Cale Makar, Ryan Graves, Patrik Nemeth, and Connor Timmins do what they do best is a testament to not only the players themselves but also the coaching staff. Not in a long time has the Avalanche had the depth and strength in their D core to be seen as one of the tops in the League.

Any hockey fan knows that a team can be great offensively but without a strong defense they lose. Not only does the Colorado Avalanche have a very strong set of defensemen, but those same defensemen also aren’t afraid to jump up into the play and play offensive hockey. Look at the number of times Cale Makar is being credited with either scoring goals or getting an assist. Ryan Graves is fast becoming another player to do that same thing. Samuel Girard is also strong in both defense and offense.

7.    Alex Newhook scores first NHL goal

Alex Newhook played only six regular-season games before the end of the season and then played his first Playoff games in this series. He had tallied three assists in the six games he’d played, but no goals, so imagine the excitement when he nailed his first NHL goal in game three of the series.

Newhook commented in an interview during the third game that he was a little nervous before taking the shot, but watching the look on his face after the shot went in, I am sure that was temporary.

His teammates, both those on the ice and on the bench helped him celebrate this wonderful milestone in his NHL career. Ryan Graves even fought to get him the game puck so he had a momento.

8.    Ball Arena hosts nearly 7,500 fans

The Avalanche knew that if they won the President’s Trophy they would have home-ice advantage for the entire playoff series. They know the depth of support they have from their fans, at home, in Ball Arena. That was evident in the noise that could be heard in game two on Wednesday night May 19th. Colorado Avalanche fans love their team and when they are at Ball Arena they show that support stronger than ever.

As a fan that attended game two, not only was there support throughout the entire game for the team but the chants of “Go Avs Go” and “Let’s Go Avalanche” on the way out of the stadium following the game was extraordinary. Avalanche fans are passionate. And that goes for the ones that don’t make it into the arena too. Many of the Sports bars around Denver were full of fans cheering just as loud as those in Ball Arena, as was evidenced by the packed DNVR Sports bar for game three.

9.    Conn Smythe favorite up for grabs

Peter Baugh a journalist with the Athletic asked Avalanche fans at the end of the series who was their pick for MVP. Some fans found it easy to respond with Nathan MacKinnon, others as strongly with Phillipp Grubauer. Then others thought it was Gabriel Landeskog.

Some chose other players such as Brandon Saad, and even Jared Bednar got a mention. I agree with one of the fans in that I found it hard to find one play to pick as the most valuable. Each of the four games was different and for each one there were a number of players that stood out. Ryan Graves for his spectacular defensive plays for example. I lost count of the number of times PE Bellemare threw himself in line of the puck during most of the games. Different players were valuable at different times.

The one thing that was evident throughout the entire series was that this was teamwork, nothing but teamwork from the entire Avalanche team. No one player let the team down. Each player contributed and each player stepped up when they were needed the most. When someone made a mistake, another player stood up and put the puck on the net to score.

I’d say the entire squad were MVP’s for this series.

10.           The Stats

Goals: Avalanche 20   STL 7

SOG: Avalanche  145   STL 110

Faceoff%: Avalanche won game 2 & 3  STL won game 1 & 4

Power Play: Avalanche 6/12  STL 2/9

PIM: Avalanche 33  STL 33

Hits: Avalanche 63  STL 113

Blocks: Avalanche 62  STL 62

Giveaways: Avalanche 34  STL 40

Takeaways: Avalanche 30  STL 22

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