The Colorado Avalanche were eliminated from the Stanley Cup Playoffs by the Vegas Golden Knights, losing 6-3 in Game 6 of the best-of-7 Stanley Cup Second Round at T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas on Thursday.
The Avalanche, who lost the second round to the Dallas Stars in seven games last season, won their last five games of the regular season to clinch the Presidents’ Trophy. They swept the St. Louis Blues in the first round and took a 2-0 lead against the Golden Knights before being outscored 17-8 in four straight losses.
Here is a look at what happened during the 2021 postseason for the Avalanche and why things could be even better next season:
Potential unrestricted free agents: Gabriel Landeskog, F; Brandon Saad, F; Pierre-Edouard Bellemare, F; Carl Soderberg, F; T.J. Tynan, F; Miikka Salomaki, F; Patrik Nemeth, D; Philipp Grubauer, G; Devan Dubnyk, G; Jonas Johansson, G
Potential restricted free agents: Tyson Jost, F; Kiefer Sherwood, F; Cale Makar, D; Conor Timmins, D; Dennis Gilbert, D; Adam Werner, G
Potential 2021 NHL Draft picks: 3
What went wrong
Not enough offense: Colorado scored 5.00 goals per game in six straight wins to begin the playoffs but averaged 2.00 in four straight losses. The Avalanche were outscored 8-1 in the third period of the last four games and were denied by Golden Knights goalie Marc-Andre Fleury at key moments. Fleury allowed eight goals and had a .921 save percentage in the final four games of the series.
Power-play blues: Colorado was 43.5 percent on the power play (10-for-23) in its first six wins of the postseason but 33.3 percent (4-for-12) in its final five games (1-4) against Vegas. Avalanche forward Nathan MacKinnon was held without a power-play goal in the second round.
Major miscues: The Avalanche fell victim to untimely turnovers that resulted in game-changing goals. They allowed two goals in 45 seconds in the third period of a 3-2 loss in Game 3. A turnover below the goal line resulted in the first of five unanswered goals in a 5-1 loss in Game 4. A pair of giveaways in the third period of Game 5 led to two goals in a 3-2 overtime loss. The Golden Knights took a 4-3 lead with 18 seconds remaining in the second period of Game 6 after the Avalanche failed to clear the zone on numerous attempts.
Reasons for optimism
Forward thinking: Mikko Rantanen and MacKinnon finished among the top 10 in scoring in the NHL during the regular season. Rantanen (66 points; 30 goals, 36 assists in 52 games) was tied for fifth with Toronto Maple Leafs center Auston Matthews. MacKinnon (65 points; 20 goals, 45 assists) in 48 games) was eighth and is a finalist for the Hart Trophy given to the most valuable player in the NHL. He was tied for second with Boston Bruins forward David Pastrnak in playoff scoring with 15 points (eight goals, seven assists) in 10 games when Colorado was eliminated. Rantanen was tied for fourth with 13 points (five goals, eight assists) in 10 games. MacKinnon scored 26 points (nine goals, 17 assists) during a 15-game point streak from March 27-April 28, the longest in the NHL this season.
Defensive cornerstones: Colorado is expected to do everything possible to re-sign Grubauer, who can become an unrestricted free agent July 28, and Makar, a pending restricted free agent. Grubauer is a first-time finalist for the Vezina Trophy, given annually to the goalie voted the best at his position. Makar is a first-time finalist for the Norris Trophy as top defenseman. Grubauer was 30-9-1 in 40 games (39 starts). He finished second in the NHL in wins behind Andrei Vasilevskiy of the Tampa Bay Lightning, was second with a 1.95 goals-against average (Alex Nedeljkovic, Carolina Hurricanes, 1.90), eighth in save percentage (.922) and tied Semyon Varlamov of the New York Islanders for the NHL lead with seven shutouts. Makar, who won the Calder Trophy voted as the top NHL rookie last season, scored 44 points (eight goals, 36 assists) in 44 regular-season games and 10 points (two goals, eight assists) in 10 playoff games.
Reinforcements coming: Top forward prospect Alex Newhook and defensemen Bowen Byram and Conor Timmins are each expected to earn larger roles next season. Newhook signed an entry-level contract March 31 following his second season at Boston College. The 20-year-old had three assists and was plus-5 in six regular-season games and two points (one goal, one assist) in eight playoff games for Colorado. Timmins led Avalanche rookies in games played (31) and blocked shots (22) in the regular season. Byram led Colorado rookies in hits (33) and average ice time (17:31) in 19 regular-season games.