Playing hockey at fast forward, the Colorado Avalanche made their way to the Stanley Cup Championship with a mix of speed and high-end skills that just needed a defined focus to get over the top.
There was never a team with to deny Nathan MacKinnoncale makar, Gabriel Landeskog and Mikko Rantanen has enough talent to win. But after four consecutive early playoff exits, the Avalanche penned another ending and knocked the back -until- back defending champion Tampa Bay Lightning by focusing on something simple: winning every 5 minute burst at once.
Coach Jared Bednar, in his sixth season behind the bench, is behind that strategy of splitting games into 5-minute increments. It’s a lesson he learned from the playoff disappointments and a lesson that served much more as Colorado’s internal mantra than the marketing slogan, “Find a way.”
“We’ve got a good five minutes left and we’ll move on to the next one,” Bednar said. “It just helps guys to stay focused and in the moment and be committed to what you’re trying to do.”
Even before the final against Tampa Bay, Bednar praised his team for believing in that philosophy, and players acknowledged repeating it on the bench during matches. The chatter became a soundtrack to the Avalanche as they raced through the playoffs with 16 wins in 20 games.
“We want to make sure that every five minutes is a focus: whatever happens, we reset and we go again because we want to bring the game to teams,” said defender. Josh Mansona acquisition of key trade deadline by CEO Joe Sakic. “We have a lot of speed and our pre-control is a big part of our game, so we want to reset every five minutes to do exactly what we have to do.”
Behind all that speed, the Avalanche defeated Nashville in the first round, defeated St. Louis in six, defeated Edmonton in the West Finals and finished in six at Tampa Bay Sunday night, giving the Lightning just their second loss in their last 13 series.
Those watching from outside the finals can see the extra hockey taking its toll on Tampa Bay — no team has played more games since 2020, the prize that comes with winning two consecutive titles and playing for a third — and marvel. only concerned with the pace of Colorado. So is Bryan Trottier, who won the Stanley Cup six times in 2001 as a player and again as an Avalanche assistant.
“Holy cow, they are fast,” he said. “Their speed is really unbelievable.”
That wasn’t an accident. Sakic, the captain of that title team in 2001 and also in 1996, had a blueprint of how to win and started looking for suitable players. The Avs weren’t just fast on offense – they were in your face on defense, on the forecheck and along the boards. Opponents had little time to think.
Making MacKinnon first choice in 2013 was about finding what Sakic called a “game-changer.” Same with Makar (fourth pick in 2017), and Sakic added grit in trades along the way for Manson, center Nazem Kadri and depth striker Andrew Cogliano.
But the key to Colorado’s game has always been speed.
“We are a fast team,” Sakic said. “We train at height. And for our group, the faster the pace, we feel we can benefit from it.”
Supplemented with the rest players gained by completing two of the first three series in four games, that speed was a significant advantage over the two-time champions, who were built to handle just about anything at this time of year, but not could handle the way Colorado used it.
A 7-0 Avalanche Outburst in Game 2 was a perfect example. The Lightning, from 2021 playoff MVP goalkeeper Andrei Vasilevskiy to the reliable veteran skaters before him, made one uncharacteristic mistake after another due to Colorado’s sharp, aggressive skating and playmaking.
“Our skating has to be a factor for us regardless of the opponent,” said Bednar. “And then playing fast is more than that: it’s the execution and getting in the right places and doing the right things so that we are predictable to ourselves.”
The Avalanche to win the Cup was predictable for four-time Cup-winning Hall of Fame goalkeeper Grant Fuhr. He said Colorado as the better team in the finals followed the path charted since October.
“They’ve been great all year,” Fuhr said. “They’ve looked like the best in the West from the start of the year and they’ve actually been the best in the league the whole time.”
It started in September, as the Avalanche began to shake off their most recent playoff defeat. Bednar said he and his team experimented a bit during the season to earn the best seed in the West.
When it came time to get the job done, Colorado was done.
“You don’t preach it all year round and practice it all year round to throw it out at the most important time of the year,” Bednar said. “That’s why we started preaching Day one of training camp: focus on the process and what to look for to be successful.”
Follow AP Hockey Writer Stephen Whyno on Twitter at https://twitter.com/SWhyno
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