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Artturi Lehkonen is an underrated playoff warrior

Meghan Angley Avatar
April 29, 2024

The Colorado Avalanche became the fifth team in NHL history with five or more goals in each of their first four games to start a playoff run. Val Nichushkin notched his first career hat trick, special teams came up huge, and Artturi Lehkonen solidified his warrior status in Game 4.

With a 5-1 win over the Winnipeg Jets, the Avs gained a 3-1 series advantage.

They have a chance to end it all in Winnipeg for Game 5. They’ll go back to where it all began after a 7-6 loss delivered a powerful wake up call in Game 1.

Inexperienced teams fracture. The Avs went inward and leaned on each other more than ever.

Ten different goal scorers have helped contribute to the goal share and fewer mistakes helped Alexandar Georgiev to allow less and less.

Their response ever since that first night at Canada Life Centre tells us a lot about their character.

Depth has been a centerpiece, but Game 4 was for the top guys.

The line to, again, allow some of the fewest scoring chances against is simultaneously home to one of Colorado’s leading goal scorers. Not only responsible and hard working, the second line is a serious weapon.

Artturi Lehkonen

“Does Lehkonen get enough recognition for his contributions?” one media member asked postgame.

“That’s an easy one. No, he does not,” Jared Bednar answered.

“If you really watch video and dissect video and look at how many plays [Lehkonen] makes on any given night on the offensive side, on the defensive side, he doesn’t get anywhere near enough credit for what he does for our team. He’s so valuable to our team in every aspect: powerplay, penalty kill, five-on-five, down goals, up goals, scores big goals. This guy is a relentless worker. This guy is a warrior… like super underrated.”

Four goals and three points in four games might have been lost in the shuffle of Colorado’s assembly of point getters.

Lehkonen and Valeri Nichushkin became the third and fourth players in franchise history to score in each of their first four games of a postseason. They joined Michel Goulet (5 GP in 1985) and Nathan MacKinnon (4 GP in 2022).

It’s an impressive streak. Looking at the success of the second line with Casey Mittelstadt, you can see how Lehkonen’s game acts as a blueprint, a how-to guide to play Colorado Avalanche hockey.

One adjustment that has helped the Avs in this series has been an emphasis on retrievals. Bednar shouted out Mittelstadt’s improvement along the wall, and it’s team-wide. A more aggressive forecheck and stronger puck protection has extended possession. They’ve then generated even more chances by retrieving their own rebounds.

The first goal in Game 4 captured this.

It started with a good forecheck from Mittelstadt on Logan Stanley. Mittelstadt created pressure and caused Stanley to turnover the puck along the wall for Zach Parise to collect.

Parise moved the puck to Mittelstadt behind the net and Mittelstadt found a backhand seam to Artturi Lehkonen alone near the net. Lehkonen lifted the puck to the back of the net. It was vindicating after Lehkonen was shoved into the boards by Nate Schmidt just seconds before.

It was Schmidt at the crease who left Lehkonen unsupervised because he thought that Mittelstadt was the threat. It made Mittelstadt’s pass more impressive – he ability to find a hole in a matter of seconds is a testament to his high IQ and his ability to pull it off is a testament to his skill.

Watching Lehkonen spring back up into play after he was thrown hard at the wall also epitomized his warrior status.

He wears contact like that every shift and it’s been a key to Colorado’s success.

Game Plan

When I reflect on Seattle’s success last season in the playoffs, I often think of the mountain of obstacles that plagued the Avs. It’s important to note that Dave Hakstol provided his team a solid game plan to counter Colorado’s attack. Nathan MacKinnon struggled on entries due to aggressive two-to-three on one man coverage. They lacked the support to overwhelm Seattle.

Bednar did the best he could with a weakened roster last year, and this series has allowed his coaching to shine. Depth has supported his vision too.

It’s not a complete overhaul from game to game, but he pays attention down to the smallest details to give his team points of emphasis.

The emphasis on wall work is part of it. Winnipeg’s defensive structure has vulnerabilities and Bednar sought to exploit them. Their puck management not only suffers the longer the puck is in their end but also under the pressure of Colorado’s pace. When they’re forced to make a series of split-second decisions, they start to make the wrong ones.

The other part of it is execution. Bednar’s players value his game plan and bring it to life through their effort.

Their willingness to attack on the forecheck and their fight to reclaim pucks has helped them to try for even more second and third attempts.

Mittelstadt’s line has been rewarded for venturing to the dirty and dangerous areas behind the net.

Add in Colorado’s speed, and their plan of attack can overwhelm. They’re a handful and it’s hard to contain them when they put their work boots on.

Cale Makar

Cale Makar (2-6—8 in 4 GP) trails only Connor McDavid (1-9—10 in 4 GP) for the most points in the 2024 Stanley Cup Playoffs. Makar (also 2022) became the second defenseman in NHL history with eight points through four games in a postseason multiple times, joining Bobby Orr (1971 & 1972).

Adam Lowry tried to stop him at Colorado’s blueline, but Makar went coast-to-coast, evading several Jets players along the way, and wristed the puck in from inside the right-circle to add an important insurance goal.

Though not a game winner, I’d cite Makar’s goal as the moment that took the wind out of Winnipeg’s sails.

They couldn’t stay out of the box and the penalties became insurmountable, but Makar’s goal was truly debilitating.

The effort he single-handedly demonstrated on that play punctuated Winnipeg’s dysfunction.

“I’m always amazed at what Cale can do,” Josh Manson said. “I watch him in practice all the time and just the way he moves and the way he does things and sees the ice, he’s special.”

Makar’s electrifying end-to-end goal not only added to his impressive point total but also deflated the Jets’ morale, underscoring his impact on both ends of the ice.

Val Nichushkin

Never let Nichushkin’s return to play following an absence fool you. He might start off a little slow, but once the rust has been knocked off he’ll return to the explosive player we’ve come to know.

Gabriel Landeskog left impossible shoes to fill. Nichushkin’s nose for the net makes him an asset on Colorado’s powerplay.

Things weren’t connecting at first, but on their third powerplay try, the Avs finally converted. 

Colorado moved the puck out high and Makar sent a shot toward the net from distance. Nichushkin ensured he was at the top of the blue paint to tip it in. The tip carried shades of Landeskog.

Then a passing play allowed the Avs to move the puck down low. Lehkonen tried to bury it at the crease and Nichushkin slammed the loose puck home. Two net-front guys made things hard for Connor Hellebuyck.

Nichushkin is tied for the league lead in goals. When it comes to Colorado’s headliners, you’ll always hear about Nathan MacKinnon, Cale Makar, and Mikko Rantanen, but it isn’t a proper conversation without Val Nichushkin’s name in the mix.

Game 5 won’t be easy. They’ll be in enemy territory and Winnipeg isn’t likely to continue their parade to the penalty box through three straight games, but they have a chance to end it all.


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