Avalanche 1st to advance in NHL, now wait for Blues or Wild

By TERESA M. WALKER. Associated Press

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — The Colorado Avalanche are the first NHL team to advance to the second round this postseason, and the top-seeded team in the Western Conference is coming off simply a dominating performance.

The Avalanche swept Nashville, something that hadn’t happened in the Predators’ first 14 playoff appearances. They scored the first goal in all four games — twice scoring on their first shot of the game. Colorado finished the best-of-seven series with a 5-3 win Monday night and an overall 21-9 scoring edge.

Colorado Avalanche left wing Andre Burakovsky (95) celebrates a goal by Valeri Nichushkin, right, against the Nashville Predators during the third period in Game 4 of an NHL hockey first-round playoff series Monday, May 9, 2022, in Nashville, Tenn. The Avalanche won 5-3 to sweep the series 4-0. (AP Photo/Mark Humphrey)

“They’re a really good team,” Nashville captain Roman Josi said. “They make you pay for every little mistake. They got some unbelievable players over there.”

Better yet?

Colorado trailed for a grand total of 4 minutes, 57 seconds in the entire series. That happened in the third period Monday night, and the high-powered Avs answered with three straight goals over the next 11:05 to seal not only the victory, but the series.

Colorado Avalanche players celebrate after a goal by Valeri Nichushkin (13) during the third period in Game 4 of an NHL hockey first-round playoff series against the Nashville Predators Monday, May 9, 2022, in Nashville, Tenn. The Avalanche won 5-3 to sweep the series 4-0. (AP Photo/Mark Humphrey)

“You can’t always win when you have your best, you have to find ways when you’re not,” Avalanche forward Nathan MacKinnon said. “(Monday) was one of those cases. We just know with all the skill and talent we have that we were going to get one. A lot of good looks and eventually we got a few, so it was nice.”

This puts the Avs in the Western Conference semifinals for a fourth straight season and second consecutive after sweeping their first-round opponent. Since the franchise relocated to Denver, the Avs improved to 6-0 in best-of-seven series after winning the first three games, with their fourth sweep in that span.

They now get to wait for either St. Louis or Minnesota.

“The big thing is now we can take a breath, get a couple days off for our guys, give them some rest and we’ll still get some real good practice time before we get ready for our next opponent,” Colorado coach Jared Bednar said.

That includes rest for goalie Darcy Kuemper, who sat out the series clincher still dealing with swelling around his right eye. He took an inadvertent stick to the face late in the first period of Game 3, and Pavel Francouz finished off the series in net.

“Obviously, we don’t know who our opponent is yet, but it’s going to be a familiar team,” defenseman Cale Makar said. “For us, it’s already to that next step. We’re where we want it to be, but we have to make sure that we can stay tight throughout this little break that we have.”

The Avalanche lead all teams this postseason averaging 5.25 goals per game and a league-high 43.8% on the man advantage. Only Pittsburgh (50.5) has taken more shots per game than Colorado with 44.

Makar, named a Norris Trophy finalist for a second straight season, had a goal and two assists in the series clincher, and he now has 10 points to lead all skaters in the playoffs. He is the first defenseman in NHL history with 10 points in a four-game series. The last forward to post double-digit points in a four-game series was Johan Franzen of the Detroit Red Wings, who had 10 points against Colorado in the 2008 Western semifinals.

MacKinnon said Makar might be the NHL’s best player right now with how he dominates from the back end.

“This playoff season, he’s taken another step with his leadership in the room being more vocal,” MacKinnon said. “And obviously on the ice, he’s so dominant. He might be one of the best D to ever play by the end of his career at this rate. Really excited to have him on our team, obviously.”

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