History continues to be made in the Stanley Cup Playoffs. This time in the Western Conference. The Colorado Avalanche have eliminated the number one seed Calgary Flames in the first round. What is even more remarkable is that Colorado accomplished the feat in only five games.
NHL Central Division Notebook: Avalanche Extinguish Flames
For the first time in the Stanley Cup Playoffs both number seeds in both conferences were eliminated in the first round. Lost in all of this history is that Tampa Bay and Calgary combined for a record of 1-8 in the playoffs. Yes you right that read that right only one win for the two tops seeds. Considering how good both teams were in the regular season, it is astonishing to see them both gone in the first round.
All season long, the top line of Nathan MacKinnon, Mikko Rantanen, and Gabriel Landeskog has been carrying Colorado. When a team has been able to stop the top line, Colorado would struggle. Unfortunately for the Calgary, they had no answers for these guys. MacKinnon, Rantanen, Landeskog combined for 22 points in five games. MacKinnon continues to prove why he is one of the best players by putting Colorado on his back. When Rantanen and Landeskog were out of the lineup, MacKinnon willed his team to the playoffs.
While the top line gets all the credit in Colorado, and rightfully so, secondary scoring was an issue. However, in the playoffs, the Avalanche got contributions from everyone in the lineup. Not to mention a talented rookie came on board by the name of Cale Makar. Makar went from the NCAA Championship game to the Stanley Cup Playoffs and made an immediate impact. Makar scored a goal in his first game and showing already he will be a dynamic NHL defenseman.
Coming into the series one of the biggest x-factors for Colorado would be Philipp Grubauer. After playing a so-so Game 1, Grubauer stood tall for the Avalanche. Something Grubauer has done for the last month for the Avalanche. Grubauer took the starting role from Seymon Varlamov and from that point on, Colorado has never looked bad.
All season long there were question marks about Calgary’s goaltending. Entering the series, the Flames decided to go with the veteran Mike Smith. The rational behind this was because he brought the Coyotes all the way to the Western Conference Final back in 2012. Even though there were question surrounding Smith’s play, he was the right man for the job. And after Game 1, it appeared Smith found his mojo again.
However, it wasn’t good enough for the Flames to advance to the second round of the playoffs. Smith played well for the Flames to win both games two and four, which happened to go to overtime. The loss to Colorado is not solely on Mike Smith. A team can never account for the play of hot goalie come the playoffs.
Which is why the Flames offense went cold after Game 1. Not to mention Colorado made great adjustments to combat the Flames offense. Sean Monohan, Johnny Gaudreau, Elias Lindholm, and Matthew Tkachuk combined for four goals in the series. That is not good enough for the Flames to win this series. While Sam Bennett led the team in points, James Neal, who Flames brought in as a free agent, was a healthy scratch in Game 5. As a matter of fact, Neal was a non factor this entire season for the Flames.
Something needs to be said about meaningful hockey the last weeks of the regular season. And in the case of Tampa Bay and Calgary something can be said about not playing meaningful hockey. Tampa Bay clinched the Presidents Trophy on March 13th, while Calgary clinched the top seed in the West on March 31st. On the other hand, both Colorado and Columbus had to play for something in the last week of the season. These teams carried that momentum into the playoffs.
Colorado will await the winner of the Vegas-San Jose series.