Series Debrief: Avalanche Take Down The Jets In Five Games

Colorado Hockey Now

With the Avalanche taking down the Winnipeg Jets in five games, it’s time for a series debrief.

What was the turning point? Who were the three stars? Unsung heroes? And what did we learn about both teams?

Turning Point

There are a few moments that stick out to me. It could have been the third period of Game Three, where the Avalanche scored five goals and really put their foot down. It also could have been the final 10 minutes of Game Four. Three quick goals by the Avalanche to end the period, forcing the Jets to pull Connor Hellebuyck in the third period and, more or less, putting an end to the series.

Let’s be honest, though. How could it not be Game Two? Is Alexandar Georgiev lucky that Justus Annunen was too sick to even dress for Game Two? I think the Avalanche would have likely gone back to Georgiev either way, but it would have been a really short leash.

It didn’t matter.

Colorado was the better team in Game One, and really didn’t change much of their game a few nights later. In fact, they gave up more scoring chances in Game Two. The difference really was Georgiev’s turnaround. If he didn’t stabilize and shut the door, the Avalanche would have been in some real trouble.

He had every opportunity to crumble. The Jets scored early, sending the crowd into a frenzy, but from there, he calmed down. He made a nice save off a deflection on a rush later in the period, and a nice pad save in the second, just moments before Artturi Lehkonen tied the game. Pucks stuck to him a lot more than in Game One, and he just looked more and more confident as the night went on. With the game winding down, he stopped Ehlers, who was all alone at the circle, and that was the beginning of the end for the Jets.

Three Stars Of The Series

  1. Artturi Lehkonen – For my money, the best player in the series. He did a little bit of everything for this Avalanche team. When they needed a big goal, he was there. When they needed to kill a penalty, he was there. You know exactly what you’re going to get out of Lehkonen when it comes to effort on a nightly basis, and that sets the tone for the rest of the team.
  2. Casey Mittelstadt – I tried to ask Nathan MacKinnon how Mittelstadt changes his matchups on a nightly basis, but he didn’t bite. Before Mittelstadt, MacKinnon usually goes head-to-head against the other teams best center (Scheifele). Now, the Avalanche are comfortable just doing whatever, even if it’s what the other team wants. Mittelstadt was phenomenal, and won his matchup against the Jets 1C. That makes a huge difference in a seven game series.
  3. Valeri Nichushkin – You can’t ignore seven goals in a five game series. You just can’t. This team is just different when Big Val is going like this.

Unsung Hero

This could go to a lot of different players, because the Avalanche got contributions from everyone, but it has to go to Zach Parise.

He went a month without scoring a goal prior to that meaningless game at the end of the regular season, and did look like a guy who might be slowing down. That could be expected, given his age.

Maybe he was just saving it for the postseason.

Parise played fantastic in round one, and did so being thrust into a top six role because of the injury to Jonathan Drouin. Two big goals and solid play on the second line, which helped the Avalanche keep their bottom six together, for the most part.

Now the concern will be regarding Parise’s head injury. He came back into the game, but you just never know with head/neck injuries. That was a nasty knee. The Avalanche return to practice on Friday, so we’ll see if he’s good to go.

What We Learned

The Avalanche Were Just Too Good: I’ve seen some people say that the Jets changed the way they played this series, and paid for it. I don’t think they did, or at least they didn’t want to. I just think Colorado didn’t allow them to play how they did during the regular season. Their speed was too much for Winnipeg to handle. There were times when the Jets got to their game, but they were few and far between. Colorado dictated the speed of the game for the majority of the series, and if they do that to you, you’re toast.

Winnipeg Too Slow To Adjust: I don’t think it’s a surprise that the Jets best game was Game Five. That’s when they dressed their best lineup. Logan Stanley was a liability all series long, but they kept going back to him. Cole Perfetti scored 19 goals during the regular season, but spent the first four games in the press box. Winnipeg could have adjusted to Colorado’s speedy lineup a little quicker, and they just didn’t. I don’t think the Jets would have won the series with those adjustments, but I do think they would have put up a better fight.

Jared Bednar Doesn’t Play It Safe: Will Nikolai Kovalenko come out of the lineup if/when Joel Kiviranta returns? Almost certainly. Did he make mistakes? Definitely, but I’m sure they expected that. I just love the mentality of throwing him to the wolves and not going the “safe” route of playing a Chris Wagner. I thought they might play Wagner in Game Five on the road, and they didn’t. Now, Kovalenko has some experience under his belt, will get some practice time, and has a baseline for what to expect if he’s ever needed again. That experience matters more in the long run than giving an AHL vet five minutes. Bednar knew his Avalanche team was good enough to overcome it, and they did.

Avalanche Not Dependent On Stars: Cale Makar, Nathan MacKinnon, and Mikko Rantanen combined for 27 points between the three of them, and yet, it feels like they have another level they can get to. They’ll have to do that because round two might be the most difficult one to get past in the Western Conference, but I’m confident this trio will. That being said, it has to feel good knowing that this Avalanche squad wasn’t 100% dependent on them to get out of round one. They got contributions from pretty much everyone. Heck, Josh Manson is a point-per-game player right now. This team looks strong, and they look deep. Imagine how deep they’ll be if Jonathan Drouin can come back.

Does It Matter Who The Other Goalie Is? If it ends up being the Dallas Stars in round two, many will give the Stars the advantage in net, and they probably wouldn’t be wrong. But will it even matter? If the Avalanche keep rolling the way they did it round one, Oettinger might have the same issues that Connor Hellebuyck did. Hellebuyck didn’t even play that poorly, but he couldn’t see the puck half the time. Colorado made life miserable for him with the traffic they created, and that has to make them feel mighty confident that they can crack whatever goalie they face next round.

Sam Girard Is Important: “He’s invaluable to our team,” Jared Bednar said of Girard after Game Five. Girard returned in Game Three, and the Avalanche didn’t lose from that point on. He was strong in all three zones, and played a key role on the penalty kill. His presence also allowed the staff to go back to playing every defenseman on their strong side. Some coaches don’t worry much about that, but the Avalanche staff prefers it. Getting Sean Walker back on the right improved his game, but Girard is a big part of this team and held up just fine against some bigger Jets forwards.

Fourth Lines Matter: Remember how good the Helm, O’Connor, Cogliano trio was in the 2022? It might be tough to recreate that magic, but the trio of Brandon Duhaime, Yakov Trenin, and Andrew Cogliano was huge in round one. Depth is massive at this time of the year. If you can roll four lines, especially four lines that you trust, you can go far. They scored goals, they drew penalties, and they spent most of their time in the offensive zone. That’s all you can ask for.

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