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Artturi Lehkonen sends the Colorado Avalanche to the Stanley Cup Final

Jesse Montano Avatar
June 7, 2022

The Colorado Avalanche are going to the Stanley Cup Final. 

When I first started covering the team during the 2016-2017 season, I never ever would have thought I’d be typing those words just five years later. 

This group… the resilience they’ve shown all playoffs, the adversity they’ve had to overcome all season, and their will to win has gotten to the point that it is borderline unbelievable to watch.

I arrived at morning skate today and you could literally feel the confidence surrounding the team. There was a calmness to them. They had a chance to sweep the Edmonton Oilers and punch a ticket to the Stanley Cup Final, and yet it looked and felt like just another day at the rink. 

This team’s mindset is contagious, I left the rink thinking “oh this series is over.” It just felt like they weren’t going to allow themselves to lose. The memory of Game 5 against the St. Louis Blues is still seared into their brains, they weren’t going to let the Oilers get up off the mat for a second. 

Even after the game, I’m pretty sure all seven guys that came out to address the media at one point said “the job isn’t finished.” They’re just so dialed in. Hell, even Cale Makar said “you take it in for the night, then for me you kind of move on.”

Like… what?! The mindset of this team is different than any other pro sports team I’ve ever seen. They truly embody the “don’t get too high, don’t get too low” philosophy, and it has made them Western Conference Champions just four wins away from the Stanley Cup. 

I’m (and I’m sure all of us at DNVR) going to have plenty for you in the coming days about what this means and what this journey has been like to this point, but as we always do, let’s talk about the game. 

Tense. That was the vibe around the city all day long. 

When I arrived in Edmonton last Friday, there was a buzz all around the city. The entire city was ready to see their beloved Edmonton Oilers play at Rogers Place in the Western Conference Finals.

Today did not have that same energy. Oilers fans that started to invade the Ice District (the downtown area around Rogers Place) all had a nervous, uneasy look on their face. And why wouldn’t they?

The Colorado Avalanche came into the night with a 3-0 series lead and a chance to move on to the Stanley Cup Finals for the first time since 2001, while simultaneously sending the Oilers home for the summer. 

It was clear that the Edmonton Oilers weren’t going to go quietly into the night, you could tell by the way they were talking this morning. They felt the pressure to avoid a sweep on home ice and they were going to empty the tank.

Well, for the Avs, you really couldn’t have asked for a better start. Less than three minutes into the first period Zach Kassian slashed Jack Johnson right on the hands and sent the Avalanche to the power play.

It took Cale Makar less than 60 seconds to find a shooting lane and whip one high past Mike Smith. The Avs were off and running, and the building fell silent. 

Two failed Oiler power plays didn’t help the crowd settle in at all either, and the clock was winding down on the opening frame with very little going on for Edmonton. You really felt a collective “this is it” mentality from the crowd. 

It was a bit disappointing for the Avs to be ending a first period with just a one-goal lead, despite carrying most of the play and getting a couple good penalty kills. A team like the Oilers, with their high-end talent, you just really can’t let them hang around in a game, they can make you pay in an instant. 

That’s exactly what they did in the second period.

The opportunistic Oilers benefitted from some blown coverage on the Avs’ part as Zach Hyman was jumping off the bench and was able to get in behind Colorado’s defense. Leon Draisaitl (we’ll talk more about him, don’t worry) hit him with a great pass and he walked in all alone and beat Pavel Francouz with a quick move to his backhand. 

It was all tied up and the building had a pulse.

Edmonton really started to push, and for the first time in the series it looked like they had the Avs on their heels a bit. Colorado recovered, alright. They looked like they were weathering a storm, but they didn’t look like they were getting run out of the building. 

A penalty kill from Colorado kept the crowd from popping the roof off of the place, but you could feel the energy and intensity building inside of Rogers Place, finally! I had heard so much about the atmosphere in this arena that I was honestly kind of disappointed throughout the first game and a half I had seen here. The crowd was cheering, but there just wasn’t that electricity in the air. 

With time winding down in the period, the Oilers took advantage of a rare Devon Toews mistake and gave themselves a lead for the first time of the night. A puck skipped over Toews’s stick as the Avs were trying to break out and get up ice. It lead to Ryan Nugent-Hopkins getting a clean breakaway from the blue line in, and he was also able to beat Francouz with a quick fake and move to his backhand.

I felt like if the Avs were able to get out of the period down just one goal, they wouldn’t even blink and they’d be fine. I was talking to the person sitting next to me and we were saying just that, get out of the period and you’re good. 

Well as anybody on earth could predict, right as those words left my mouth Alex Newhook shot the puck over the glass and sent the Oilers to the man-advantage with less than two minutes remaining in the period. 

Ok, I’m not going to spend a ton of time on this, but we have to talk about the performance put on by Leon Draisaitl tonight. How he even played in this game is beyond me. He had what is presumed to be an ankle injury coming into this series, and it got worse every game. 

There were multiple tines tonight where he got knocked down, and almost wasn’t able to get back up. He sat, bent over at the waist, on the bench for several minutes and missed a couple shifts just trying to work up the courage to get back out there. He always did, and he had a massive impact on the game. Four assists, and the guy couldn’t turn right. An unbelievable performance. 

I saw some people saying they didn’t like that he played through the injury, citing “hockey culture” pressuring people to put themselves in harm’s way. I just flat out do not see it like that. It’s hard for everyday folks (like myself) to wrap their heads around the desire, and the willingness to sacrifice everything for something that you have dedicated your life to and love above all else. 

Draisaitl gave every last bit he had to his teammates to try and get them one more game, and I’ve got a ton of time for people like that. 

That whole tangent brings me to, Draisiatl setting up Connor McDavid in the dying seconds of the second period to give his team a two-goal lead heading into the final frame. What more could you ask for if you’re the Oilers?

Actually, you know what, I’ll go ahead and answer that myself. You could ask for a better commitment to team defense. 

We all saw Game 1, we knew that even with a multi-goal lead, it was going to be almost impossible for Edmonton to sit back and defend. That’s just not their game. 

Sure enough, it took only 31 seconds of the third period for Devon Toews to pull the Avs within one and plant the seed of doubt in Edmonton’s collective head. 

The Avs were starting to feel it, so Edmonton did the only thing they know how to do: Open it up. 

The third frame turned into a track meet, both teams just treading chances every time they touched the puck. Zach Hyman scored about three minutes after Devon Toews made it a one-goal game, but even that didn’t have the deflating feel to it that a goal like that normally does. You knew the Avs were going to get their chances. 

You needed the big line to step up. Nathan MacKinnon was on the cusp of the Stanley Cup Finals and you wanted to see his line be the one to get you back into this game, and holy smokes did the ol’ three-headed monster deliver. 

First it was Gabe Landeskog going to the net and finding a loose puck amongst a pile of bodies in the crease to get the team within one with north of 10 minutes remaining. You felt the crowd start to squeeze, and it carried over to the team.

Just minutes later, Nathan MacKinnon got called for tripping. It was an opportunity for the Oilers to put the game away and live to fight again, but the Avs put on an outstanding PK to keep the game within reach. 

Right as the penalty expired, MacKinnon joined the play and was eventually able to get a rush going up ice. He BLEW by, and I mean that, both Edmonton defensemen and roofed one up over Mike Smith. 

We were all even. 

That nervous energy we talked about at the beginning of this? It was back in a huge way. 

The Oilers had the game and were fumbling at the goal line. 

Less than a minute later, Derek Ryan took just the second penalty of the night for the Oilers and gave a rejuvenated Avalanche team a rare shot (in this game) at the man-advantage.

We talked a lot about Mikko Rantanen coming into this series, and how he needed to be better. He had a goal in the first three games of the series, but hadn’t looked great so far in this one. 

Like the Oilers though, all this team needs is one chance and Mikko got it 30 seconds into the power play. 

He walked off the wall and just sunk one five-hole on Mike Smith. With time to spare, the Avalanche had come all the way back from two down and now had a lead.

Everyone that was wearing orange and blue, players and fans alike dropped their heads. Almost in disbelief that this had happened. 

Ironically, it was the belief in their process that helped Colorado get back into the game at this point. 

It looked like this would be how the series would end, but Leon Draisaitl had one last bit of magic in him as he picked up another assist, just minutes later, to pull the game back even. 

We were headed to overtime. 

There are a lot of things Joe Sakic has done in recent years that show what a smart GM he is, but bringing in Artturi Lehkonen is maybe the best one yet. 

His fit has been seamless, he’s had a major impact on every series so far, and tonight he sent the Avalanche to the Stanley Cup Finals. 

At 1:19 of the extra frame, Lehkonen tipped a Cale Makar shot (I haven’t even had time to talk about what an insane night he had. A goal and four assists in the biggest game of the year, what a performance from the best player in the world), collected his own rebound and put the puck into a wide open net. 

Immediate and pure elation. The team poured onto the ice, the two goaltenders embraced at the redline before mobbing the OT hero with the rest of the team. It was an unbelievable scene. 

They had to hold their breath for a minute as the play was reviewed for a potential high-stick, but it was determined the goal would stand and the game was over. 

Watching Gabe Landeskog and Erik Johnson hug while waiting to take the commemorative team photo with the Clarence Campbell Bowl was something special. This core has worked for a long time to get here, and how are you net just over the moon for them as individuals. 

I’m going to leave it there (for now), because as literally everybody told us, “the job isn’t finished.” They’re going to enjoy this one for a couple nights, and so will Avs fans everywhere, but then it’s time to try and climb the final mountain. The toughest challenge there is in hockey. 

The Stanley Cup Final.


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