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Compher, Helm send Avalanche to Western Conference Finals

Jesse Montano Avatar
May 28, 2022

At morning skate today, every member of the media that I talked to said roughly the same thing, “I can’t believe we’re back here.”

Halfway through Game 5, everybody was making plans for what they would do with their days off in between series, and obviously you know what happened next. So there we were, sitting inside the Enterprise Center watching the Colorado Avalanche prepare for yet another chance to eliminate the St. Louis Blues, and boy oh boy did they deliver in dramatic fashion. 

For the first time since 2002, the Colorado Avalanche are headed to the Western Conference Finals. Everybody, everybody was saying “here we go again” after Game 5. Everybody thought the mental hurdle of Round 2 was going to be too much for the Avs to overcome. Everybody said the killer instinct wasn’t there, and that the moment would swallow them up.

The Avalanche proved a lot of people wrong tonight. 

We’ll have all weekend to get into their Conference Final matchup with the Edmonton Oilers, but let’s talk about what happened in St. Louis tonight first. 

Honestly, I thought the energy was good when the Avalanche were on the ice for their AM pre-game skate, the Avs really did seem like they had mentally moved past the epic collapse of the last game and were ready for the task that lay ahead. 

When I returned to the Enterprise Center for Game 6, I was expecting a hostile environment, a crowd that was fired up to see their team with a chance to send things back to Denver for a deciding Game 7, instead though, it was tense. Very tense.

It’s not a bad thing, but I thought it accurately depicted what we were likely going to see from both teams on the ice. All the talk about the Blues having a ton of momentum and nothing to lose, I found to be interesting because at the end of the day they were still heading into a game in which they were fighting for their lives. 

On the other side the Avalanche were about to play a game to try and get past the mental hurdle of the second round, as much as they try to say there isn’t one.  In short, both teams had plenty of reason to have some nervous energy when the game started. 

It got off on the right foot for the Avs, who I thought really needed a good start to shake the bad feelings of their most recent loss. Colorado came out and more or less took the crowd out of it, giving the Blues very little in terms of things they could build on.

For the third game in a row, Ville Husso did all of the heavy lifting for his team and kept them in a deadlock on the scoreboard when Colorado had some good looks early. 

The clock was winding down on the opening frame, and you had to feel good if you were the Avs. They had controlled play, killed some of that initial energy coming from the crowd, and even killed a penalty late.

Right as you started saying “great road period” though, Justin Faulk set the “opportunistic” tone that would end up being the theme of the game for the Blues. With just north of a minute to go in the first, Colorado lost their coverage out high, and Faulk walked right down the slot and ripped one over the shoulder of Darcy Kuemper.

All the good they had done in the first, it wasn’t for nothing, but man that one stung. 

The good thing for the Avs was that they immediately got to go to the locker room for intermission after the goal, so the Blues didn’t have much of an opportunity to build on their only real bright spot of the game’s early stages.

The start of the second period felt really similar to the first, with the Avalanche controlling the majority of the play and getting good looks. Their only real problem remained Ville Husso; Colorado just couldn’t solve him. 

This was starting to feel like a grind-it-out game. One that the Avs were going to have to get into the dirty areas and bang in pucks to get going, they needed a spark.

Just five minutes into the second, J.T. Compher gave them just that. 

Josh Manson picked up a drop pass of the stick of Andre Burakovsky and started to walk off the wall. Manson looked back towards the point and faked like he was going to reverse the puck up high, which drew two Blues forecheckers out of the middle of the ice to go cover the points.

With a bunch of open ice in front of him, Manson threw one on net and Compher was able to locate the rebound and punch one past Husso. Finally, the Avs were off and running. 

You could feel the energy that gave them, just as much as you could feel the life come out of the crowd, Colorado really started to push, but Husso stood tall. 

The two teams would trade chances here and there, with the Avalanche pushing most of the play. Just When you thought the Avs were going to start running downhill on St. Louis, Jack Johnson misplayed a puck at the offensive blue line and sprung the Blues on a 2-on-1, and it was probably the two worst guys you could see coming straight at you if you’re Darcy Kuemper. 

Brayden Schenn and Jordan Kyrou spread out the ice and put Josh Manson in an almost impossible defensive situation. Schenn feathered one right onto Kyrou’s stick and he made no mistake. Despite carrying the play for most of the game to this point, Colorado was once again chasing the score.

For the first time all night, it felt like the Blues had some real life, and started to tilt the ice back the other direction, and after struggling in Game 5, Kuemper was battling to keep his team in it, and it wasn’t always easy for him.

St. Louis was able to turn some of that late pressure into a late power play, and what happened on the power play changed the course of the game. 

The Avs got running around, and the Blues were whipping the puck all over the ice. Suddenly Kyrou, maybe St. Louis’ most potent offensive weapon, found himself wide open back door and the puck on his stick. Kuemper made a desperation play that Kyrou out-waited, and right when it looked like he was staring at an empty net and a 3-1 lead, Josh Manson came out of nowhere to literally steal a goal right off of Kyrou’s stick. The Avs were still alive. 

“Well it was a bit of a panic to be honest with you,” Manson said. “Once it went to Kyrou… I knew he is a really patient player, and I had a feeling he was going to hold onto that thing and once I saw him take the step I just was hoping that it would hit me. Thank goodness it did.”

The second period horn sounded and you could literally see the relief on Colorado’s player’s faces. They knew how lucky they were that Manson made that play. 

I got a funny text during the intermission. Lots of folks have been talking about the show-stopping play we saw from Nathan MacKinnon in Game 5. The one we all thought was going to be the game-winner with two minutes left. Obviously that didn’t happen and the highlight-reel goal kind of felt like it was for nothing. 

“The Avs need to take advantage of that amazing save. Unlike how they didn’t take advantage of MacKinnon’s amazing goal the other night” the text read. 

I laughed for a moment, but then realized something. They were right. You don’t get many plays like that in the playoffs. Ones that literally cause your jaw to drop and change a game in an instant, and the Avalanche had gotten two in back to back games. They couldn’t waste this one, who knew when or if they’d get another.

The third period looked familiar to me, it looked just like the third period of Game 5, although the roles were reversed. The Blues looked like they were just trying to run out the clock. Chip and change, chip and change, chip and change. Over and over again. Just constantly putting the puck on the stick of the Avs’ stars. 

And just like Game 5, you really felt like that wasn’t sustainable. 

Just over the halfway point of the period, and an unsuccessful power play shift by the Avs’ top unit, Compher hops over the boards and made yet another clutch play in the biggest moment. 

Fresh off the bench, Compher joined the rush on the weak side, collected a great pass from Bowen Byram, and when I say he ripped it over Husso’s glove, I mean it. The shot blew the water bottle out of its holder on the back of the net, and Husso didn’t even have a chance to react to it. 

Colorado’s persistence had paid off. They were deadlocked once again with less than 10 minutes to go, and all the momentum was on their side.

The Blues looked stunned, they kind of sleepwalked through he next few shifts, and you could tell the Avs were trying to take advantage. Credit to Husso, he once again kept his team in it. 

The clocked ticked down with nothing ultra-threatening from either side, and it looked like we were destined for overtime. Then Darren Helm, yes… Darren Helm, channeled his inner Happy Gilmore and said “nah I think I’ll just beat them now.”

With 10 seconds left in regulation, the Avs made one final push up the ice, just trying to throw anything they could on net to avoid the extra frame.

Erik Johnson dashed into the offensive zone, left the puck for Logan O’Connor, who put one cross-ice and into space for Helm to skate into. Helm took a couple of good strides and then put everything he had into a bomb of a shot that blew by three sprawling block attempts from Blues skaters, and right by Husso.

In an instant, you could have heard a pin drop had it not been for the celebrating coming from the Avalanche bench. Elation on one side, disbelief on the other. 

“Felt great,” Helm joked after the game. 

You could see the relief on their faces postgame. The relief that they got to shake hands tonight, and didn’t have to go back to Denver to try and close it out again. 

No longer can people say this is a team incapable of getting out of the second round. As Jared Bednar said after the game, they’re only halfway to their goal, but what a moment for this organization. 

2002 was the last time the Colorado Avalanche played in the conference final, and it has been a long, heartbreaking road to get back to this point. To be one of the final four teams left standing is no small feat.

The boys will get some much-deserved rest, then it’s time to try and climb one step closer to the ultimate prize.

Wow. What a night. 


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