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Avs-Jets Game 4 Studs & Duds

AJ Haefele Avatar
April 28, 2024

The Colorado Avalanche pushed their Round 1 series against the Winnipeg Jets to the brink of elimination as the Avs took a 3-1 lead following a 5-1 win in Game 4.


Casey Mittelstadt

This has become a fascinating story to watch as this series unfolds. Mittelstadt had a rough final couple weeks of the regular season and was coming into the playoffs with plenty of question marks surrounding him as an unknown postseason quantity.

Four games later, he has five points and is devouring Mark Scheifele head-to-head, forcing Jets head coach Rick Bowness to stop trying to hard match his first-line center against Mittelstadt. That’s extremely encouraging for the Avalanche.

Mittelstadt got it started early today as he obliterated behemoth Jets defenseman Logan Stanley along the wall (there’s that board work we keep talking about) and made a slick centering feed to Artturi Lehkonen for the 1-0 lead.

Stanley wouldn’t have even been in this game without Brenden Dillon’s hand injury at the end of Game 3, but the only plus attribute Stanley has is being big and strong and he got badly worked by Mittelstadt, both on the initial clearing attempt and then again behind the net.

With Ross Colton’s line badly struggling today, Mittelstadt got more defensive-zone starts and won five of eight faceoffs in that area of the ice. That is a small part of his game that I’d like to start keeping a closer eye on as this postseason progresses because if Bednar can begin using Mittelstadt as a reliable defensive center, especially alongside Lehkonen, it creates even more matchup opportunities. I am intrigued by this.

Artturi Lehkonen

Yet again, I felt Lehkonen was Colorado’s best overall forward today. He was a high-impact player all over the ice and through all three periods, which is where I think he is separating from some of his teammates in this series.

With Lehkonen, the tryhard always plays, but the effectiveness can go up and down at times. Today, there was no roller coaster. It was purely kicking ass.

The Avs have two legitimate superstar forwards in Nathan MacKinnon and Mikko Rantanen and both are being significantly outplayed by Lehkonen right now. That’s less an indictment of those two guys and a testament to what we’re seeing from Lehkonen. His slip pass across the crease to Val Nichushkin for the fourth goal of this game was cool and rad and sexy hockey.

Valeri Nichushkin

I’ve always said that a hat trick means you’re automatically a Stud. Nichushkin got there today even though I didn’t think his overall game was as impactful as his box score might suggest.

Of course, the point of the game is to score goals. Where Nichushkin scored his three goals today reminded me an awful lot of how Gabe Landeskog used to score goals for this team. With his captain watching on from the owner’s suite upstairs, Nichushkin scored a goal on a deflection off a Cale Makar point shot, banged home a puck from a foot away after Lehkonen got it to him on the backdoor where he stood alone, and then won a board battle and scored into an empty net from center ice.

Hats rained down on Nichushkin as he skated slowly to the Avalanche bench. He delivered the knockout punch in this game. He and Lehkonen have combined to score eight goals in Colorado’s three wins in Games 2-4.

As much as I have railed over the years that center depth is vital to playoff success, the Avs are getting their best play from two wings right now.

Cale Makar

Makar’s point shot that was tipped in by Nichushkin and gave the Avs a 2-1 lead was needed. To that point, Colorado had gone through two power play chances and recorded zero shots on goal. Makar wasted no time and shot his first opportunity of the team’s third chance. Nichushkin tipped it in and the building was rockin’. Makar was just getting started.

A highlight-reel goal if there ever was one, Makar took a waved off icing around his own net, darted up the ice and Adam Lowry reached for a pokecheck instead of just blowing Makar up, resulting in the puck bouncing into Makar’s gear. He gathered the puck back in, cruised through center ice and the rest of the Jets skaters and fired a wrist shot that beat Connor Hellebuyck perfectly.

The goal changed the game and put the Avs up 3-1 in the game and, eventually, the series. It’s the kind of play that you sometimes look back on and say “That’s when the series truly ended.”

MacKinnon and Rantanen continued their lackluster overall play this series (despite the point production, which amazingly remains consistent as ever) so Colorado’s “other” superstar stepped up and provided a superstar moment. For my money, it was Makar’s best overall game in the series and he’s now up to eight points through four games.

There’s a reason this guy has a Conn Smythe on his shelf.


Colorado’s third line

Miles Wood has been downright awesome for much of this series but tonight was the first time I felt he had really lost the plot. He couldn’t control the puck, was struggling in the defensive zone, and his speed and physicality were a non-factor. This wasn’t a good afternoon for Wood, who seemed like an overexcited little kid at a playground whose energy outpaced his ability to channel it and resulted in him falling about the place.

Ross Colton, similarly, just wasn’t very good. There was no impact for much of it and it’s why the ice time was cut in favor of Colorado’s fourth line, which took on some of those minutes and broke even while Colton’s group was getting manhandled. It’s extremely encouraging that Colorado didn’t bat an eye when their powerhouse third line (in this series) struggled mightily with Joel Kiviranta out and Nikolai Kovalenko making his NHL debut.

Kovalenko was decent in the defensive zone, making multiple excellent plays in front of his own net to prevent scoring chances. Offensively, however, he looked overwhelmed by the speed and unsure of where he was supposed to be much of the time. It was obvious he was feeling his way through the game. Not bad for a first game, but the drop-off from Kiviranta’s dynamite start to this series was felt.

Rick Bowness

I’m not sure I’ve ever put an opposing coach in this space before but I just wanted a place to express my confusion at what happened today. So, the Jets are struggling to create offense in this series and they have a dynamite playmaker in Cole Perfetti who scored 19 goals and 19 assists this year that they aren’t playing because he’s a touch small and the coaching staff doesn’t trust him.

Not super surprising stuff for a veteran coach with a 22-year-old forward whose defensive game isn’t there yet, but still something I find interesting. They swap out David Gustafsson, who actually has a goal in this series (a lifetime ago in the first period of Game 2), for Axel Jonsson-Fjallby, who is a defensive forward that the team wanted to bring in to help on their porous penalty kill.

Well, the lack of discipline from the Jets meant that they had plenty of time on the PK again today with four more Avalanche man advantages. The final result? Jonsson-Fjallby played a total of 6:45 with 0:00 of PK time. Not one second.

I’m just some guy on the internet and all, but that seems pretty confusing to me. With their season on the line Tuesday night, I would imagine Bowness finally empties the tank with lineup options and we’ll see how it all goes. Through four games, he has been outcoached by a wide margin.

Avs Unsung Hero

Sean Walker

This will be quick, I promise. Walker was excellent today using his aggression and smooth skating to attack up the ice and we saw him really unleash the style of play that made him so attractive to the Avalanche in the first place.

His game in the defensive zone was equally impressive as he was using his excellent stick to disrupt passing lanes and rebound opportunities and exit the zone with both his legs and puck-moving ability.

The Avs getting another great game from one of their defenders not on the top pairing is exactly why the front office built this group the way they did. Sam Girard was outstanding in Game 3 and while still effective in Game 4, he wasn’t as good. Insert Walker, whose ability to attack through the neutral zone meant that whenever Makar and Devon Toews weren’t on the ice, the Jets couldn’t try to take advantage of other pairings because, well, they just didn’t have the puck very often. Pretty good defensive strategy, honestly.


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