The Colorado Avalanche are loaded with talent and undefeated in the playoffs and look practically omniscient, and as such they can beat you in a million different ways. But none of them feel more devastatingly unstoppable than their top power play unit, which hooked them up with the overtime goal that let them beat Vegas 3-2 in Game 2 of their series early Thursday morning.
The way that goal came about was beautiful in its simplicity. The Avalanche had their best player, Mikko Rantanen, on one side of the ice in the attacking zone. And they had their second-best player, Nathan MacKinnon (😉), all the way on the other side. Combine this very basic and logical set-up with the man advantage and all it takes it competent passing to rip a team apart. Rantanen got swarmed on one side but got it away to Cale Makar at the blue line, who sent it along to MacKinnon. Nate danced with the puck for a bit, attracted the attention of the D, and then delivered it back to the Moose, who now had time and space to line up a lethal shot.
This has been happening a lot lately! Not only do the Avs have a playoff goal differential that literally made me cackle out loud—5.00 goals scored per game vs 1.67 goals allowed—but the stats also back up their inevitability with the extra man. Though they’re tied for ninth with only the minimum six playoff games played, they’re just one behind the Lightning (who’ve played two more games) with a league second-best eight power play conversions so far this postseason. And by percentage, the Avs blow everybody else away, scoring on 43.5 percent of their power plays to start their run to the Cup.
There are caveats you can add, of course. Two of the power play goals came with an empty net in the final minute of the St. Louis series. And the Avs unit, which was eighth in percentage overall on the year, could run hot and cold in the regular season. Against Vegas, specifically, they were a mere 1-for-21 this year, and they started on an incredible 3-for-5 pace against the Blues before dropping off at the end of the series.
Avs winger Andre Burakovsky credited the Blues’ aggressive pressure in the neutral zone for disrupting the team’s fastest skaters as they tried to carry the puck into dangerous territory. But when the Avs are able to penetrate the attacking zone and make use of their superior talent, the results are just overwhelming. Here’s an example from the first Vegas game, which looks just like the goal above except Rantanen makes one extra pass to give Gabe Landeskog the tap-in goal.
And here’s MacKinnon not even bothering to pass to Rantanen and just scoring the goal from his spot himself:
And it doesn’t even have to be those two guys making it happen! To open the Avs’ accounts for the postseason, it was the bright young defenseman Cale Makar who made use of some room at the top of the zone to fire a puck past Jordan Binnington (after the winger Rantanen won a big faceoff).
If the highlights aren’t impressive enough, here’s the even worse news for Vegas: The Knights actually, after getting crushed 7-1 to start the series, outplayed the Avs in much of Game 2, and the contest only went into overtime because Colorado goalie Philipp Grubauer made the saves (39 of them to be exact) that Marc-Andre Fleury could not. What Gru’s outstanding .943 playoff save percentage tells you, and what the second power play unit’s goal on Wednesday tells you, is that these Avs are multi-dimensionally brilliant. And it gets even worse for their opponents, because the team refrain after Game 2 was very similar to the quotes heard after they took a 2-0 lead on St. Louis: We can do better.
“We got outplayed the last 30 minutes of the game, so we need a response in Game 3, if anything,” MacKinnon said back then. “We’ve got to look ourselves in the mirror for Game 3 in St. Louis and bring a better effort.”
“It wasn’t our best game,” Rantanen said after his OT winner against the Knights. “We know that, but that’s what we need: We need to find a way even when we don’t play our best.”
How much better can you be than undefeated after six playoff games? I guess we’ll find out.