Following an explosive, five-goal second period that put the visiting Los Angeles Kings out of their misery, the Colorado Avalanche’s 5-1 win gave them the league’s best record, their 10th division title, third Presidents’ Trophy and home-ice advantage throughout the playoffs.
“The 56-game schedule, one of our goals was to get home ice in the playoffs. To have our guys accomplish that and dig in for it, work the way they worked, win eight out of nine at the end of the year, five in a row without some key players, I just thought it shows a lot of character,” head coach Jared Bednar said. “It’s a nice feather in their cap and they should enjoy it. Enjoy tomorrow. By Saturday, Sunday, we are going to be preparing for a whole new challenge — but the home ice and the Presidents’ Trophy is something to be proud of, in my opinion. It’s a long time to get here and the guys accomplished that; for some guys, they have been working towards it for two or three years.”
The St. Louis Blues will be the Avalanche’s first-round opponent; their clog-the-middle, physical approach has given Colorado more than their share of headaches over the course of the last few seasons, something not lost on Bednar.
“It’s not like it’s an opponent that we haven’t seen before. It’s a team we know real well, they know us real well,” said Bednar. “It is a team that’s really picked up their game in the second half of the season, and they are looking like the Blues that won the Cup. Although there is a big spread in the points difference of our regular season, if you look at their second half, and how they have come along — they are getting healthy — this is a real tough opponent, so we will dig into them (on video). See ways that we can possibly exploit them, and what we got to be careful of on the other side of things and put together a game plan here. We’ve got plenty of time to do that; we will relay the pertinent information to our players, and we will get ready to go for Game 1 here on Monday.”
NEXT UP: Avalanche (No. 1 seed, West) vs. Blues (No. 4 seed, West) | Monday, May 17 at 8:00 p.m. | TV: NBCSN
• The Avalanche finished the season with a 22-4-2 (.821) home record this season; the best in team history. They’ve gone 16-0-1 in their last 17 at home and outscored their opponents 110-54 on home ice. As the league’s most dominant home team, the Avs’ home-ice advantage for the entire length of their playoff run will be a significant factor in games.
• The Avalanche claimed their 10th division title in team history, but oddly, they’ve won them in four different divisions: The Pacific (3, 1995-98), Northwest (5, 1998-2003), Central (1, 2013-14) and the West (1, 2020-21).
• Head coach Jared Bednar’s .732 win percentage this season officially passed Bob Hartley’s .695 in 2000-01 to set a new Avalanche record. However, since overtime losses were counted as losses for coaches then, Hartley’s would have been .744 in that season given current rules.
• With a pair of assists, Mikko Rantanen finished the season with 66 points and became the first Avalanche player not named Nathan MacKinnon to lead Colorado in scoring since Matt Duchene in 2015-16.
• Devon Toews had his 22nd assist to tie his career high, but it was his defense that stood out on Thursday; the Kings didn’t get a single shot off when he was on the ice until the 30th minute.
• Jonas Johansson started in net, and in the biggest game of his young career, he didn’t disappoint. The only goal that Johansson allowed was following a 110-foot breakaway by Kings defenseman Sean Walker after Walker picked Andre Burakovsky clean near their Kings’ blue line; it’s unlikely that usual starter Phillip Grubauer would have stopped it, either.
• Former Avalanche player and current Blues forward Ryan O’Reilly gave the Avalanche some early bulletin board material on Thursday night, saying, “We know that they have a lot of talent over there and they work hard. But for us, it’s an exciting challenge. We’re going to have some fun and we’re going to beat them.”
THE FINAL WORD
“We achieved the first goal we had this year. Everybody knows what the next box is, so we have to start working on that.” — Mikko Rantanen.
LAST NIGHT’S LINES
Top Line: LW Gabriel Landeskog, C Tyson Jost, RW Mikko Rantanen
Second Line: LW Andre Burakovsky, C Nazem Kadri, RW Joonas Donskoi
Third Line: LW Valeri Nichushkin, C Alex Newhook, RW J.T. Compher
Fourth Line: LW Kiefer Sherwood, C Pierre-Edouard Bellemare, RW Jayson Megna
Top Pair: LD Devon Toews, RD Cale Makar
Second Pair: LD Ryan Graves, RD Samuel Girard
Third Pair: LD Patrik Nemeth, RD Conor Timmins
Starter: Jonas Johansson
• Nathan MacKinnon (lower-body injury) missed the final two games of the regular season, but is likely to return for Game 1 of the first round on May 17.
• Devan Dubnyk (COVID-19 protocol) tested positive for the virus and is out from May 3 until at least May 17.
• Brandon Saad (lower-body injury) was injured on Apr. 24 and is expected to miss two-to-four weeks. He is not expected to be ready for at least the first game of the first round of the playoffs.
• Bowen Byram (upper-body injury) will be out until at least mid-May after suffering a setback.
• Logan O’Connor (lower-body injury) was placed on injured reserve on Apr. 2. He has surgery, and is expected to miss the rest of the season.
• Matt Calvert (upper-body injury) missed the Mar. 31 game and was placed on the injured reserve list on Apr. 11.
• Dennis Gilbert (facial injury, COVID-19 protocol) was placed on injured reserve on Feb. 20. He is expected to be out until at least late March.
• Erik Johnson (upper-body injury) left the Jan. 30 game and has no projected return date. On March 25, coach Jared Bednar suggested that it was possible that Johnson could miss the remainder of the season.
• Pavel Francouz (hip) has yet to play this season and remains on injured reserve. On Apr. 12, the Avalanche ruled him out for the rest of the season following hip surgery.
Shawn Drotar is the host of “The Fan Late Night with Shawn Drotar;” weeknights from 10:00 p.m. to midnight — only on 104.3 The Fan
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