Why Nathan MacKinnon, Mikko Rantanen and the Avalanche are no surprise team
|Toronto Star 20 Apr 2019 at 17:23|
DENVERâThe brief message on social media from Colorado defenceman Nikita Zadorov was rhetorical in nature: âHow is your bracket?â
Obviously, itâs pretty messy.
The eighth-seeded Avalanche have played a big role in that. Colorado knocked off the Calgary Flames â the top team in the West â in five games for its first playoff series win since 2008. Itâs on to the second round against the winner of the Vegas-San Jose series, which the Golden Knights lead 3-2.
While others may be surprised, Nathan MacKinnon and his teammates have been asserting that this post-season would be different. Unlike a year ago, they wouldnât be content with merely making the playoffs. This time, they wanted to make some noise even if they again entered as an eight seed and faced No. 1.
âWeâre not just happy to be here,â said MacKinnon, whose team was eliminated in the opening round by top-ranked Nashville in six games last year. âWeâre here to win the Cup.â
Flames goaltender Mike Smith called MacKinnon âa beast.â
âFor anyone who doesnât think MacKinnon is not one of the best if not the best, they might want to look at this series,â Flames captain Mark Giordano agreed. âHe really took control and led their team.â
Colorado actually has been in playoff mode for about a month, needing to go 8-0-2 down the stretch to earn the last spot. Despite the Avalancheâs surge, they werenât exactly a trendy pick to spring an upset on a Flames squad that amassed 107 points. But they outscored the Flames by a 17-11 margin and outshot them 205-164.
âNow we can rest before the second round,â forward Mikko Rantanen said Friday after a 5-1 win in Game 5. âThatâs going to be huge.â
And just like that, another top seed exited. Tampa Bay, the Presidentsâ Trophy winner with the leagueâs best record, got swept out of the playoffs by Columbus. Dating to expansion in 1967-68, this marks the first time the top two teams in each division or conference or the teams with the two best records have been eliminated in the opening round, according to the league.
âThe season we had we were not expecting to go out in five games obviously in the first round,â Giordano said. âRight now it doesnât feel good. We had a great season and we couldnât find a way to get leads in the playoffs and stick to it when we did have the lead.
âItâs sour right now because a couple games we let slip away.â
The NHLâs highest scoring team on home ice this season mustered only one goal Friday despite head coach Bill Peters juggling his lines in an attempt to spark the offence.
âSome of the strengths we had during the regular season werenât strengths in round one,â Peters said. âI canât explain it to you, why some of those went away. Itâll be interesting as we reflect and look back and try and find some answers.
âWe tried to change some things lineup-wise, we tried to change some matchups a little bit on the MacKinnon line and we didnât have an answer.â
Rantanen turned in quite a series with five goals and four assists. He has at least a point in four straight games, one away from tying the Quebec-Colorado franchise mark held set by Peter Stastny in 1982 and equalled by Peter Forsberg on three separate occasions.
This after Rantanen missed the last eight games of the regular season with an upper-body injury. He shook off some rust in Game 1 and then spent the rest of the series shaking free of defenders. He scored the overtime winner in Game 4.
âHe came back and he looked amazing and dominated,â MacKinnon said. âItâs so nice to have a guy like that on your team.â