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Avs win a wild one to grab series lead over Oilers

Jesse Montano Avatar
June 1, 2022

Whew. That game was… well it was something. 

Game 1 of the Western Conference Finals kicked off Tuesday night in Denver and it was one to remember. The Colorado Avalanche held on to claim a 8-6 win over the Edmonton Oilers in a fast-paced, wide-open thriller of a hockey game. 

There’s so much to get into in this one that there’s no time for pleasantries, let’s dive right in. 

The energy inside Ball Arena was electric as the teams took the ice; it has been 20 years since fans in Denver have seen the conference finals up close and you could just feel that the crowd was ready to explode.

We got both the US and Canadian anthems (beautifully done I might add), and we were off. Two high-flying teams looking to make a statement early. Good energy and pace from both teams early on, lots of up and down, but nothing really threatening in the first couple of minutes. 

Part of what is going to make this series so fun and unpredictable is each team’s ability to turn nothing into something in the blink of an eye, and all it takes is one mistake. The Avalanche were the first ones to make a mistake, and Evander Kane was the first one to capitalize. 

A series of bad passes and pinches from Josh Manson and Jack Johnson led to Evander Kane getting in behind all five Avs and being sprung on a clean breakaway. Kane ripped a perfect shot over the shoulder of Darcy Kuemper to give the Oilers a 1-0 lead. 

So, we’re five minutes in to Game 1 and the Oilers have just taken the lead. I was sitting there thinking “ok… and now the chess match begins.”

What a dumb thought that was.

Less than 40 seconds after Kane opened the scoring, Andre Burakovsky hit Alex Newhook with a pass as he was coming through the neutral zone with speed. Newhook was joined by J.T. Compher on the rush for a quick 2-on-1, and Newhook waited just long enough before hitting Compher with a perfect pass, and for the second game in a row, J.T. Compher had the Avs off and running. 

If you blinked, you would have missed two goals. It was quite the start. 

Colorado really started tilting the ice after Compher evened things up, their forecheck was relentless. Honesty, at different points inside the first period, we may have seen some of the best forechecking the Avalanche have done all season. They were everywhere. 

Edmonton had nothing for space. They couldn’t get pucks out of their own end, let alone turn them into any kind of offensive chance. It was pure domination from Colorado. 

The Avalanche had controlled play so much, that as we got inside the final five minutes of the opening frame, it had been over 10 minutes since the Oilers had even registered a shot on net, and things were about to get worse for them.

We’ve talked at length about the star power that’s on display in this series, and how many guys have the ability to make jaw-dropping plays, and with just under five minutes left in the first, Nathan MacKinnon gave us our first one. 

Devon Toews took the initial breakout pass from Cale Makar, walked into the neutral zone and hit Nathan MacKinnon with a bullet of a pass right on the tape. MacKinnon hit the blue line with a ton of speed, blew past both Oilers’ defensemen and made a beautifully subtle move to slip the puck right past an out-stretched Mike Smith.

It was an all-world play that gave the Avs a very well-deserved 2-1 lead in the late stages of the first. 

One thing we saw way too much of in the series against the St. Louis Blues was Colorado controlling play for large stretches, then giving goals away late in periods. It would just crush any good feelings or momentum the Avalanche had spent all period building. 

It looked like that was about to happen again when Zach Hyman found a loose puck on the back door and punched it home with just 22 seconds remaining in the period. It was so deflating for the Avs. They had played so well and were about to take a tie into the intermission. 

So far we’ve talked about the amount of talent in this series, both teams having the ability to turn nothing into something, and the fact that all some of these players need is for you to make one mistake and they’ll put it in the back of your net. 

Well, we got a healthy reminder of all of that immediately after Hyman knotted the game up at 2-2. 

The puck dropped and the Avs chipped it ahead. Valeri Nichushkin gave chase and forced the Oilers’ defenseman to throw the puck up and out of the zone quickly. It was a rushed pass and Cale Makar read it perfectly. He jumped in front of his man, waited for the play to be onside (more on this in a second), walked in and absolutely ripped one past Mike Smith to restore the lead just nine seconds after the Oilers had tied things up. The building erupted. 

Through all the chaos though, the Edmonton bench was incensed. Almost everyone was gesturing and yelling to the officials that the play was offside. The Oiler coaches immediately got together to talk things over before waving the referee down to challenge the call on the ice. 

So I’ll be honest, when I watched the play develop in real-time, I thought FOR SURE the play was offside. It didn’t look like Makar had held up long enough for Nichushkin to tag up. Even upon seeing the replays that they show in the arena, it looked like the goal would be coming back. 

After a longer-than-expected review, it was determined that the play was onside and the goal would stand. I was stunned… until I saw the explanation and the reverse angle of the play. 

The league said that they determined that Makar had pushed the puck ahead into the zone, but didn’t actually touch the puck until Nichushkin had tagged up, making the play legal and onside.

Makar didn’t make it sound postgame like this was very intentional, even referring to himself as “lucky” on the play. Call it whatever you want, all it really meant was the Avs got to carry the lead that they deserved into the dressing room, along with a power play due to the failed challenge.

Five goals in the first period between the two teams. Five! Now after having a bit of fun scoring goals, I thought we would see both teams start to tighten things up and make it harder for the other to generate. 


The Avalanche got right to work on their man-advantage at the start of the second, getting good looks and moving the puck really well. 

A nice feed from MacKinnon out front to Kadri generated the initial chance before Kadri put back his own rebound to stretch the lead to 4-2. The Avs were feeling good. 

A quick strike from Ryan McLeod on a loose puck in the crease pulled Edmonton within one just minutes later, but Mikko Rantanen, finally, made his presence known as Colorado responded to Edmonton’s… well… response. 

Rantanen crept down off the point, MacKinnon found his from across the ice and Mikko sent one of his signature short-side bullets past Smith to restore the two-goal lead. You could see the look of relief on his face. 

So, five goals in the first, we were less than five minutes into the second and already had three more. It was entertaining to be sure, but I really couldn’t believe what I was seeing. Colorado’s forechecking had been great, and I really hadn’t hated their team defense to that point in the game, but there was something just… sloppy about some of Colorado’s play inside their own zone. Just not tight enough. 

Just a minute and forty seconds after Rantanen got on the scoresheet, J.T. Compher wanted back in on the action. It came at the end of a phenomenal shift. One where the Avs had once again just hemmed Edmonton in their own zone for multiple minutes, finding that relentless forecheck again. Toews teed up Makar perfectly, and he hammered a one-timer that Compher got plenty of. 

The puck changed direction and beat Smith, and that would do it for the 40-year-old goaltender’s night. 

 A three goal lead, and Colorado had just chased Mike Smith. The energy was up, and the Avalanche looked like they were finally settling into what had been a just chaotic game. Then came the TV timeout. 

At the first extended stoppage of the period, Darcy Kuemper skated over to the bench and had a conversation with head coach Jared Bednar. Bednar then motioned down to backup Pavel Francouz and told him he was going in. 

It was so bizarre. I hadn’t seen anything go wrong, Kuemper didn’t look like he was in a visible amount of pain. He suddenly just left. I thought maybe it was an equipment issue and that he would be back at the next stoppage or maybe the next TV timeout. 

That didn’t happen. Kuemper was ruled out for the night with an upper-body injury. It was Francouz’s net the rest of the way. 

Per DNVR’s own AJ Haefele, Kuemper left the game by his own decision due to blurry vision. It can be assumed this is tied to the eye injury he sustained in Round 1 against the Nashville Predators. 

It’s a scary situation for many reasons, but looking at the hockey side of things what you don’t like here is the uncertainty. Is this something that will clear up on its own? Or is there something larger going on that maybe we don’t know about? I’m not going to speculate, but this is absolutely a major storyline to watch over the next couple of days. 

That seemed to change the momentum of the game a little. You could tell Edmonton was wanting to capitalize on a cold goalie entering the game, but give Francouz credit, he hung tough in that second period and made a couple of huge stops. 

Colorado’s fourth line would step up again and give their goaltender some scoring support as Andrew Cogliano finished off a 2-on-1 with Logan O’Connor. The Avs had the opportunity to skate into the intermission with a 7-3 lead, but those late-period goals against struck again.

McDavid got an easy backdoor tap in on a great feed from Draisaitl, there was nothing Francouz could do on it. Another late-period mistake by the Avs gave the Oilers life. 

The third period, it just wasn’t great hockey from the Avalanche. Just sloppy. Too loose in and around their own net, and just gave too many good looks to the Oilers. An offense this high-powered, you just can’t give up as much as the Avalanche did. 

Again, it wasn’t *bad*. It just wasn’t up to Colorado’s standards. The standards that we’ve seen them set all year, and certainly not at the level you need to be at to win in the Stanley Cup Playoffs. 

Edmonton would pot two in third to make it a 7-6 game in the dying minutes, only to have Gabe Landeskog put one into the empty net to seal the Game 1 win for the Avalanche. 

A collective sigh of relief. After the game, the Avalanche weren’t very happy with how they played, but they got the win. Any time in the playoffs you can get a win and feel like you have (a lot of) room for improvement, you’ll take it. 

You don’t love that the Avs gave up the goals that they did, especially when you consider that they JUST blew a three-goal lead last week to the St. Louis Blues in Game 5. That game was a tough lesson, but one that you felt the Avs would be better for.

They certainly were better in Game 6 of Round 2, and I suppose you could say they were technically better tonight seeing as they bent but didn’t break, but you can’t continue to play with fire like that. Especially against a player as gifted as Connor McDavid, it will cost you.  Even if it didn’t tonight. 

An optional practice coming up tomorrow for the Avs who will definitely need to clean things up, but now have a 1-0 series lead. All eyes are on Darcy Kuemper though, his status will be a huge factor in how the rest of this series plays out.

You have to overcome some adversity if you’re going to win the Cup, and the Avalanche had to do that tonight. Let’s see if they can build on it. 

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