Can Colorado find their post-season clinical edge?
The Colorado Avalanche last won the Stanley Cup in 2001 with a thrilling comeback over the New Jersey Devils. The Avalanche were seemingly on the path to defeat after falling 3-2 down in the Finals, but two outstanding performances, including a 3-1 victory at the Pepsi Center in the decider secured the crown for Colorado for the second time in six years.
It has been 21 years since the Avalanche reached the Finals, but they are backed in the NHL odds as the leading contenders for the Stanley Cup with the top bookmakers with odds in the range of +400 after their strong season to date.
However, coach Jared Bednar knows that the quest to win the Stanley Cup begins in the post-season after their disappointing end to the last campaign. The Avalanche were outstanding over the course of the 2020-21 term and finished atop of the Western Conference ahead of the Vegas Golden Knights due to their superior record regarding regulation wins and clinched the Presidents’ Trophy in the process.
But when the two sides met in the second round of the Stanley Cup playoffs, Vegas rose to the occasion to dump Colorado out of the post-season. The Avalanche struggled to raise their game under the spotlight of the playoffs, especially on offense, while their distribution was also lackluster against the Golden Knights.
Bednar and his team used the disappointment as motivation for the current campaign, and they are seemingly on a charge toward a second-straight Presidents’ Trophy. Colorado knows that the toughest challenges will come in the post-season, but the franchise has done its utmost to address its offensive issues. Mikko Rantanen and Gabriel Landeskog have been on form in the final third, each surpassing 30 goals after the 62-game mark. Despite a new injury to Nathan MacKinnon, the Avs should have more than enough of a cushion to go into the playoffs as the No. 1 seed.
There has been a concerted effort from the team to support the duo as Nazem Kadri, Cale Makar and Nathan MacKinnon have also been on point in terms of production. The proof will come in the post-season, but Bednar and his staff have ensured that his team has a system in place to avoid the issues that have halted their recent surges in the playoffs.
The pressure of the occasion can get to even the most talented of teams, and there have been many cases across the United States’ sporting leagues where sides have been downright dominant in the regular season, but when the spotlight has been on in the playoffs, they have crumbled. That is the challenge ahead of Bednar and his coaching staff to prepare their side for the transition mentally to a knockout competition, where there are no second chances.
More often than not, issues in the post-season can be related to experience. However, the Avalanche’s key men have been in the NHL long enough to know about the rigors of the game, and how to control their emotions in the arena. Landeskog and Kadri have a number of years under their belt both in the NHL and internationally, while Rantanen, MacKinnon and Makar have been in the league long enough.
The crux point will come in key moments against teams such as the Golden Knights and potentially further down the line against the Florida Panthers or any other team to emerge from the East. Colorado has cultivated the clinical edge under pressure to win those moments, which may be decisive in ending the franchise’s 21-year drought without the Stanley Cup. Expectations will be high for Bednar and his team in the post-season, and they can ill afford another underwhelming exit.