AVALANCHE

The Avalanche cut corners, which could come back to haunt them

Jun 21, 2022, 6:00 AM | Updated: 6:20 am
Jared Bednar...
(Photo by Dave Reginek/NHLI via Getty Images)
(Photo by Dave Reginek/NHLI via Getty Images)

The Avalanche had a chance to put a stranglehold on the Stanley Cup Final. They entered Game 3 on Monday night with a 2-0 lead in the best-of-seven, with a chance to take a commanding lead over the Lightning.

It didn’t happen. For various reasons.

Early on, the referees certainly seemed intent on making sure ABC didn’t get saddled with another 7-0 laugher. They waved off a Colorado goal on an air-tight offside call. They also gave Tampa Bay a pair of first period power plays, on semi-dicey calls.

And in the second period, the Avs were flat-footed. Defensively, they were letting too many Lightning players, especially their stars, roam free in front of the net. They also weren’t sacrificing their bodies, getting in front of every shot attempt like they did in the first two games.

But ultimately, Colorado fell 6-2 in Game 3 because they had a huge disadvantage in net. Darcy Kuemper was awful, giving up five goals on 21 shots. Meanwhile, Andrei Vasilevskiy was excellent, stopping 37 of 39 shots, including multiple point-blank opportunities by J.T. Compher.

As a result, Tampa Bay is right back in the series. And they have a chance to seize all of the momentum in Game 4 on Wednesday night.

This development isn’t a surprise. All season long, some of us have warned that the Avalanche have gone cheap in the wrong places. They built a million-dollar house, but put in linoleum floors.

Colorado is loaded with talent. From Nathan MacKinnon to Cale Makar, from Gabriel Landeskog to Mikko Rantanen, they have stars seemingly on every line.

But they don’t have an A+ player in net. In fact, it’s quite the opposite.

A season ago, Philipp Grubauer was a Vezina Trophy finalist as the Avs goaltender. But after a second-round meltdown against Vegas, Colorado let the netminder leave for greener pastures, as he signed a six-year, $35.4-million deal with Seattle. Grubauer was the ninth-highest paid goaltender in the NHL this season, earning $5.9 million.

That was significantly behind Vasilevskiy. Tampa Bay’s goalie was third in the league, making $9.5 million.

Darcy Kuemper was in the bottom half of the league, earning $4.5 million. Pavel Francouz, who many want the Avalanche to go with in Game 4, is tied for 42nd at $2 million.

But that’s not the only place where Colorado cut corners. They also went cheap behind the bench.

Jared Bednar has done a nice job guiding the Avs from one of the worst teams in the NHL when he took over to the Stanley Cup Final. But he’s yet to prove that he can get it done in the playoffs. When the opposing team makes adjustments, can Colorado’s head coach counter?

He couldn’t last season against the Golden Knights. He hasn’t really had to yet this postseason, as Colorado breezed to a 12-2 record en route to the Stanley Cup Final.

Now, he’ll have to answer Jon Cooper. The Lightning’s head coach pushed all of the right buttons between Games 2 and 3. There’s a reason his team has won the last two Stanley Cups; he knows what he’s doing behind the bench.

Cooper is one of the 10-highest paid coaches in the league. Bednar was at the bottom of the list when the Avs gave him his first NHL jobs. He hasn’t shot up the ranks in the years since.

Now, the Avalanche are going to play their biggest game in 21 years. And they have two huge question marks.

Who will start between the pipes in Game 4? Will it be Kuemper or Francouz?

Can Bednar find a way to counter the moves made by Cooper in Game 3? Can he match wits with a two-time championship head coach?

Ultimately, it’ll come down to the two spots where Joe Sakic went cheap. The Avs general manager decided to be frugal in net at behind the bench, spending money elsewhere.

Will that come back to haunt Colorado? That answer will come on Wednesday night.

If the Lightning win again, tying the series at 2-2, they’ll have all of the momentum. The Avalanche will be well on their way to missing out on a championship because their readily apparent flaws came back to bite them.

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The Avalanche cut corners, which could come back to haunt them