The impressive postseason exploits of scoring machine Nathan MacKinnon and rookie phenom Cale Makar weren’t quite enough to stage a breakthrough for the Colorado Avalanche.
Once again, the Avalanche were eliminated in a second-round series courtesy of a Game 7 loss. Last season stung. This one was even more crushing. Colorado rallied back from a 3-1 series deficit against Dallas before losing 5-4 in overtime.
A quick message from MacKinnon to the front office: Don’t change much.
”If we have the exact same team next year, I feel like we can win it next year,” said MacKinnon, whose team hasn’t been to the Western Conference finals since 2002. ”Love the group of guys we have.”
A glut of injuries didn’t help their postseason cause. The Avalanche turned to third-string goaltender Michael Hutchinson against the Stars with Philipp Grubauer and Pavel Francouz sidelined. In addition, they were were missing defenseman Erik Johnson along with forwards Joonas Donskoi and Matt Calvert. For Game 7, they also didn’t have blue liner Conor Timmins or captain Gabriel Landeskog, who was unable to go after suffering a cut on his right leg when he was clipped by a skate in Game 6.
”I would’ve like to see our team fully healthy, that’s for sure,” said MacKinnon, whose team was knocked out by San Jose last season. ”It just sucks we caught the injury bug again. It stings.”
MacKinnon followed up a remarkable regular season – he’s a candidate for the league’s MVP honors – with an even more memorable playoffs. The 25-year-old finished with 25 postseason points (nine goals, 16 assists), which was the most by an Avalanche player in a single playoff year since Peter Forsberg had 27 in 2002.
What’s more, MacKinnon had at least a point in a franchise-record 14 straight games – a streak that was ended in Game 7 against the Stars.
”In my opinion, he’s probably the best player in the world right now,” said forward Vladislav Namestnikov, whose team outscored Dallas 29-28 in the series. ”The things he does are unbelievable.”
Makar was second among NHL rookies in scoring during the regular season with 50 points (12 goals, 38 assists) in 57 games. He’s a finalist for the Calder Trophy awarded to the league’s top rookie.
In the postseason, the defenseman elevated his game to another level with 15 points.
”He was really good, borderline outstanding,” Avalanche coach Jared Bednar. ”I can go through our lineup, there are guys who stepped up at different times.”
Hence the reason MacKinnon doesn’t see a big need for general manager Joe Sakic to overhaul the roster.
”I know it’s not the Cup final or anything, but we felt like we could win,” MacKinnon said. ”We’ve got to find a way to break through. There’s no moral victories here. We came here to win and we didn’t get the job done.”
THE NEW GUYS
The new guys fit in quite nicely this season. The offseason additions of Andre Burakovsky, Nazem Kadri, Donskoi and Valeri Nichushkin accounted for nearly 30% of the team’s goals in the regular season. Pierre-Edouard Bellemare also came up big, along with Namestnikov, who was acquired in a February trade.
Namestnikov had two goals in Game 7 on Friday, while Burakovsky and Kadri also scored. Kadri’s six power-play goals tied Sakic (1996) for second-most in franchise history for a playoff season.
Colorado grew accustomed to being banged-up this season. The team posted the NHL’s third-best record in the regular season despite losing 223 man games to ailments. The injury bug followed them to Edmonton for the restart.
”It’s a lot to overcome,” Bednar said. ”I’m really proud of this team and their heart and passion they played with.”
The group of unrestricted free agents includes Namestnikov, Colin Wilson, Matt Nieto, Mark Barberio, Kevin Connauton and Hutchinson, the 30-year-old goaltender who posted wins in Games 5 and 6. Those were his first two NHL playoff starts.
FIRST THINGS FIRST
Colorado scored the game’s first goal 43 times in the regular season, which was tops in the league. They were 30-6-7 when scoring first.
In the series with Dallas, the Avalanche scored first in two games (going 1-1).
GOOD THINGS AHEAD?
This marked the third straight postseason appearance for the Avalanche. Their .657 winning percentage was their third-highest since moving to Denver.
”It looks good for us,” forward Mikko Rantanen said. ”We have lots of younger players coming up, too.”
Such as defenseman Bowen Byram, who was the fourth overall pick by Colorado in 2019. Or one day Alex Newhook, who was taken 16th in that same draft. Newhook turned in a stellar 2019-20 season at Boston College.