Here lies the corpse of the Colorado Avalanche, eliminated from the Stanley Cup Playoffs in six games at the hands of the Nashville Predators.
One year removed from the worst record in the NHL, the Avs returned to the NHL postseason for the first time since 2014. It was only the organization’s third appearance in the last ten years; however, the team looks to be on the upswing on the strength of young talent such as captain Gabriel Landeskog, potential Hart Trophy candidate Nathan MacKinnon and defender Tyson Barrie. After clinching the final wild card position on the last day of the season, the Avalanche met the President’s Trophy-winning Nashville Predators in the first round. While Colorado managed to steal two games from the deep Predators squad, Nashville simply proved too strong a team for the inexperienced Avs.
Let’s take a look at why the Avalanche unfortunately perished in the first round of the 2018 Playoffs.
Where Did It Go Wrong?
Much like the New Jersey Devils, injuries and inexperience likely played the biggest factor in the Avalanche’s playoff elimination. Before the series began, the Avs were already without starting goaltender Semyon Varlamov and star defender Erik Johnson. In Johnson’s case, the former first-overall pick was on pace for the second-best season of his career prior to being injured against the Philadelphia Flyers on March 28th. Just two days later, Varlamov went down against the Chicago Blackhawks, thrusting Jonathan Bernier into the starting role for the remainder of the regular season and the beginning of the Avs’ playoff run. However, by the end of the first round, Bernier would find himself in the press box as well, a victim of a lower-body injury in Game 4. While Andrew Hammond performed admirably, he simply wasn’t enough to contain the Predators vaunted offence.
In fact, none of the Avalanche’s 23 players were able to contain the Predators offensive juggernaut; of the 16 players who played in all six games of the series, only three failed to register a point. Nashville’s balanced attack was certainly led by offensive wizard Filip Forsberg, who averaged a point-per-game throughout the series. However, he was far from the only contributor – the Predators found depth scoring from the likes of Colton Sissons and Austin Watson, who combined for 14 points in the six-game battle. Their defensemen also found a way to chip in offensively, with Nashville’s rearguards posting a combined 14 points as well. Contrast that with the Avalanche; Colorado only managed a single goal out of their defensemen and went a paltry 2-for-20 on the power play. Nashville goaltender Pekka Rinne is tough enough to beat 5-on-5, and the Avalanche needed to capitalize on the man advantage if there was to be any hope of moving forward. Unfortunately, they were unable to do so, and find themselves
Is There a Heartbeat?
Absolutely. The Avalanche are among the youngest teams in the NHL at the moment; only Carl Soderberg and Blake Comeau are over the age of 30. Not only that, but the Avs young core are all locked up on reasonable contracts for the foreseeable future, with no core members of the team due for a new contract for at least one more season. There’s a lot of optimism in the Mile High City heading into 2018/2019 – star forward Nathan MacKinnon said it best after game five.
“There are some positives,” said the 22-year-old. “We have a young team going forward. We showed a lot of fight this season; there’s a lot of adversity that we overcame. Hopefully, we can use some of that next season.”
While another massive jump in the standings may be a stretch, there’s no reason to think that the Avalanche couldn’t contend to be in the top half of the Western Conference next year. All of the right pieces are there, and this year’s playoff experience will be a valuable building block towards future success.