Since relocating to Denver and adopting a new team name in 1995, the Colorado Avalanche have been one of the most successful teams in the NHL, with nine divisional titles and two memorable Stanley Cup victories.
The Avalanche remain the only active team to have won in every Stanley Final Cup appearance and are one of only two teams to have secured the top prize in ice hockey in the season after relocating. During the last 26 years, there have been some unforgettable matches, including league record nine consecutive division titles through to 2003.
The Avalanche have also, on a number of occasions, punched above their weight against teams that were supposedly favorites. Here are two of the team’s greatest underdog victories:
1996 Western Conference Final versus Detroit Red Wings
The Colorado Avalanche finished first in the NHL Pacific Division and had a strong team capable of winning the Stanley Cup in the first season after moving away from Quebec. However, they were very much the underdogs against a formidable Detroit team that finished top of the Central Division with 131 points and an NHL record of 62 wins and just 13 losses.
The Western Conference Final of 1996 was the first playoff meeting between the Avalanche and the Red Wings. Despite going into the final as underdogs, Colorado won the first match 3-2 in overtime, following a Mike Keane goal on Chris Osgood. Goaltender Patrick Roy then shut out Detroit with 35 saves in the second game, in a 3-0 victory.
While Detroit hit back in Game 3 with a 6-4 win, Colorado then triumphed 4-2 in Game 4 and eventually rounded out a classic 4-2 series win in a fiery sixth game that featured the infamous incident between Claude Lemieux and Kris Draper.
The Detroit and Colorado rivalry began in earnest that year but the Avalanche made their mark by eventually routing the Florida Panthers in a four-game sweep to secure their first Stanley Cup. That year,1996, will always be a special year for Avalanche fans and it featured arguably the best underdog win.
2019 Western Conference first round versus Calgary Flames
The Avalanche caused another upset recently when they romped to a 4-1 series victory over the Calgary Flames in the first round of the Western Conference Playoffs in 2019.
Heading into that match-up, Calgary was full of confidence, having finished first in the Pacific Division with 50 victories and 25 losses during the regular season. In contrast, the Avalanche only just managed to secure a playoff place, winning 38 games overall.
It was no surprise then that sportsbooks had the Flames as overwhelming favorites to go through in just five games. Calgary’s odds of -224 to Colorado’s +175 is evidence of the huge task the Avalanche faced in trying to advance that year.
Colorado flipped convention on its head, though, in the first-ever playoff meeting with Calgary. While the Flames got the upper hand in the first game with a comfortable 4-0 victory, the Avalanche hit back with a 3-2 overtime win in game two, courtesy of a late Nathan MacKinnon strike.
Colorado really got going in Game 3 with a 6-2 triumph as Cale Makar made quite a debut, scoring on his first shot on his first shift. There was another overtime win in Game 4, and the Avalanche cruised to a 5-1 win to close out the series as both Colin Wilson and Mikko Rantanen scored twice.
The fact that Colorado lost out to San Jose in the second round took some shine off, but it remains one of the team’s best underdog victories.
Potential upsets, and betting on the events
The Avalanche also secured surprise wins over the Dallas Stars in the mid-2000s but neither of those match the heroics against Detroit and Calgary. With the NHL 2021 season now well underway, Colorado is in the running for another tilt at the Stanley Cup – but can they go all the way and win?
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By the end of the current campaign, Colorado are unlikely to have topped the upsets listed here, due to their position as favorites ahead of Tampa Bay Lightning, but there are sure to be many twists and turns if they are to go all the way and secure a third Stanley Cup.