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Disaster strikes as Avs fall to pieces in Game 5 meltdown

Jesse Montano Avatar
May 26, 2022

The only positive way I can even think to spin this one for the Colorado Avalanche is that everyone knew this series would be a tough battle, everyone knew the Avalanche were going to have to fight through some adversity to get to where they want to go, and now they have a chance to go out and prove that they really have grown and are capable of doing so.

The Avs had a chance to close out the St. Louis Blues and punch their ticket to the Western Conference Finals, putting to rest all the talk of them being a great team, but unable to get out of Round 2. With the way things started tonight, it looked like the Avalanche were well on their way.

Ball Arena was absolutely electric, everybody knew what was at stake and the crowd was in the mood to celebrate. Less than four minutes in, Nathan MacKinnon gave them a reason to when he picked up a drop pass from Gabe Landeskog in the slot and shot against the grain to beat Ville Husso.

It was one of those superstar plays we’ve been waiting to see out of MacKinnon in this series, and it got his team buzzing. 

The Avs were all over the Blues, just smothering pressure in the offensive zone. For the second straight game, Ville Husso was the only reason St. Louis wasn’t run right out of the building within the first 20 minutes. The Blues were just barely hanging on. 

Colorado was controlling play, their forecheck was relentless, and they were winning seemingly every 50/50 puck battle. Eventually, the Blues couldn’t keep up, and were forced to take a penalty late in the opening frame. 

You felt like a goal in the dying minutes on the man-advantage could really tilt the ice, St. Louis had their season on the line and honestly looked to be way more on their heels than you’d expect for a team in that situation.

The Avs had a few good looks early on, and some good zone time, but Husso stood tall… for as long as he could. 

Nathan MacKinnon made a strong play from the goal line and powered his way to the front of the net and got three good whacks at the puck before a rebound finally came off the ice and bounced off his mid-section and into the net. In a series where MacKinnon had struggled to put a real stamp on things, he was making his presence known in a huge way early in this one. 

It looked like St. Louis was starting to get frustrated, taking another late penalty. This time for cross-checking somewhat away from the play. Credit to the Blues, they got the kill, and it may have been it for their season had they not.

Not long after the penalty expired early in the second however, Gabe Landeskog planted himself right in front and tipped a Devon Toews shot to give the Avs a 3-0 lead. It was a party at Ball Arena.

A party that was about to come to an abrupt halt. 

One of the things I have talked about at length during these playoffs, and most recently after Game 4 of THIS series, is Colorado’s ability to remain calm and focused in high-pressure situations. Nothing has seemed to rattle them, they’ve just continued to push through whatever obstacle was in front of them.

Right at about the halfway mark of this game though, that changed. 

You knew St. Louis was going to give everything they had to keep their season alive, you knew they weren’t going to go quietly into the night. I expected a push from them, I did not expect what happened next from the Avalanche. 

The Avs have been so successful all year because of how consistent they have been for all 60 minutes of a game. In more, fear more, games than not this season, what you got out of Colorado in the first 5 minutes was the exact same thing you got from them in the last 5 minutes. 

But tonight…. They just stopped. They stopped doing all of the little things that have been their hallmark all year. They stopped playing to win, and started playing not to lose. Which is almost always a receipt for disaster. 

With just over five minutes left, Blues forward Vladimir Tarasenko grabbed a loose puck in the slot and whipped it quickly over the glove of Darcy Kuemper. St. Louis had a pulse. 

Suddenly, the game felt like the Avs just needed to get to intermission to regroup. They started to run around, and just make plays that were a little out of character. The horn sounded, and you could feel the collective relief throughout the building, everybody could feel them starting to bend, and were all relieved to see them get out of the period without breaking. 

As soon as the puck dropped on the third I could tell the Avs were in trouble. You could just see it in their posture, they were all just looking at the clock waiting for it to run out, and they completely got away from their game, and their identity. 

Almost exactly halfway through the final frame, Robert Thomas made it a one-goal game. 

I kept waiting for the Avs to push back, to enough of this we’re taking over. It just didn’t happen. Pretty much all they were doing was gaining the red line and sending pucks deep, then going for a change. 

No forecheck, no hard pressure on the puck carrier, just trying to survive the final 10 minutes. I looked to the person on my right and told them, “if they’re going to try to do this for eight more minutes, they’re gonna give one up”.

Sure enough, after what felt like an eternity of zone time for St. Louis, it was a crazy bounce off an Avs defenseman that left the puck sitting right in the blue paint in front of an open net, and Justin Faulk banged it home. What was once a three-goal lead, was new a deadlock in the dying minutes. 

The crowd was stunned. The Avs looked stunned. So much good early in the game, all gone. 

At this point, I think everyone was worried about their ability to even keep the game tied. Forget winning in overtime, could they even get there? The Blues had all the momentum, and Colorado was just trying to get through regulation at this point. 

Had the Avs held on, what happened next would have been what 90% of this piece would’ve been about. Nathan MacKinnon grabbed the puck behind his own net and proceeded to skate 200’ to put home what is absolutely the best goal of these Stanley Cup Playoffs so far and is maybe the best individual performance I’ve ever seen. 

MacKinnon galloped through the neutral zone, picking up way more speed than it looked like either Blues defenseman was expecting, absolutely walked Nick Leddy, and threw the puck short-side over Husso’s shoulder. The building erupted. More hats than I’ve ever seen thrown at Ball Arena hit the ice. The house was shaking. It looked like the Avs were going to be able to get away with it, Nathan MacKinnon had saved the day with an all-world play that would make Wayne Gretzky blush. 

The puck dropped on the ensuing face-off though, and it was right back to “just hold on” mode. I couldn’t believe what I was seeing. How could they go through all that and just give the opportunity right back?

Twice, I thought the Avs had opportunities to get the puck deep and regroup. Even had they iced the puck it would have been fine, the Blues were getting great looks because they had the Avs running all over the zone, so why not get the puck out and allow your team to refocus. 

With the net empty, it was another puck just sitting in the blue paint after Kuemper made the first save that was banged home by Robert Thomas, and the air was sucked right back out of the building. 

We were headed to overtime. 

I thought the Avalanche put together a couple good shifts early in the extra period, looked like they had maybe found their mojo… but the hockey gods decided that this Avs group needed to be taught one more lesson. You don’t get to get away with that type of preference in the third period of a playoff game. An elimination game at that. 

It was an ugly one from Tyler Bozak, one Darcy Kuemper will absolutely want back. 5-4, the Blues had completed the comeback. 

Everyone thought this would be a long series, but this one stung. Colorado let it slip through their fingers, they had the game right where they wanted it, and just gave it away. 

The Stanley Cup team of 2001, had a 3-1 lead in their second-round series against the Los Angelas Kings before being shutout twice to force a deciding Game 7. I’m not trying to compare this year’s Avs with that team per se, but more of just make the point that you have to fight through a million obstacles to reach the ultimate prize.

It’s never going to be easy, and if you thought it would be, well you probably aren’t prepared for the rigors of a playoff run. 

At the end of the day, they still have a lead in this series, and that’s all the Avalanche can focus on. Did they think they would have a game where they fell apart like that? Probably not, no. But there’s nothing they can do about it now, and we’re about to find out what this team is really made of. 


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