Edmonton – In jubilation of the moment, Nathan McKinnon was no less concerned about the extent to which the Colorado Avalanche would give up its acquisition of Artturi Lehkonen.
All he knew was that General Manager Joe Sakic had made the right move in choosing the versatile Finnish pavilion, no matter the price. And for the record, he would have given away more than just defending prospect Justin Barron and the 2023 second-round pick shipped to Montreal Canadiens to get Lehkonen on an extended tour this year and next season.
Well, the move was another blow of brilliance as Lehkonen delivered the playoff series at 1:19 in overtime on Monday, firing in Cole Makar and then depositing the loose change at home to secure a 6-5 win over the Edmonton Oilers and a sweep A series of four matches in the Western Conference Final.
“That’s why you trade with players like that at the deadline,” said Avalanche’s Nathan McKinnon, who scored 4-4 at 13:30 in the third half with a great solo effort. “I’m going to exchange 10 from his first round now. We’re all going to go when these guys come into the league, anyway.”
For Lehkonen, it was his sixth goal in the playoffs and propelled Avalanche into the Stanley Cup Final for the first time since 2001.
It was the second time in as many seasons that Lehkonen provided the playoff in the series to send his team to the final – he was the overtime winner for Montreal in Game 6 against Vegas last season.
But it took an official review before the ceremony officially began and the handshake streak began.
“I hope it isn’t too sticky,” Likonen said. “I didn’t think much for a while after (I scored) but then I saw they were going to look at it. That’s pretty much that. Kind of funny. It was a good bounce. I got a tip on the first shot and it bounced right on my tape.”
“It sure was a bit like a roller coaster. The Stanley Cup opportunity doesn’t come around very often. You have to make the most of it. This year is an opportunity for us. You just have to go out there and take it.”
Eric Johnson was the first player to speak to the media after Clarence Campbell Powell was handed an avalanche and he could barely contain his emotions.
The 2006 NHL Draft’s first overall pick (by the St. Louis Blues) was a 12-season Avalanche member and is the furthest he’s been in the postseason.
“I’ve waited so long to have a chance to play for the cup,” Johnson said. “I saw the disc, I was so happy she came in and we got going and now we have a chance to go to the cup. … I was excited, very excited.”
“There was a lot of ups and downs. When I first got to Colorado in 2011, the team was finally dead, had some years of ups and downs after that, and we’ve been knocking on the door here for the last couple of years. Some injuries and things that happened along the way, You never know if that opportunity will come. Just enjoy everything and try to embrace the moment and have a lot of fun. It’s been 900 games, 15 years.”
By contrast, Johnson’s frequent defensive partner Bowen Byram is nearing his 21st birthday and has just 49 NHL games on his résumé – and he’s about to play in the Stanley Cup, too.
McCar continued his thrilling play, scoring the icebreaker in a power game through a perfect screen by Gabe Landskog and then making four assists (including a shot on the overtime winner) to become just the first defense in NHL history to produce a five-point effort in an elimination game. .
“There’s not much left to say. I think words are running out for her,” Johnson said. “He’s very dynamic, interrupting the game, killing penalty shootouts, and dominating both ends of the ice. A humble man, a good head on his shoulders, a good person. I don’t know. There is nothing he cannot do. He keeps showing off what he can do every night. We are fortunate to see greatness, and we don’t see it often.”
The Oilers saw plenty of it during this four-game streak and Makar’s contributions were not limited to the offensive finish.
Not only did he score two goals and nine points in the four games, but Makar and his defensive partner Devon Toyos (who scored his fifth goal in the qualifiers on Monday) did a fine job against the dynamic oilers’ duo Leon Drysittel and Conor McDavid. .
“Obviously a fantastic achievement. You’re reaching the biggest stage in the world in hockey, and that’s exciting,” said Makar, who has racked up five goals and 22 points in 14 qualifying matches. “You take it at night and then, for me, kind of move around and shift the focus to the next step. That’s what has made this team so successful so far this year. We don’t look too far ahead. We stay in the moment. Enjoy this for a bit and then move on to the next.”
Playing without Nazim Qadri (the thumb), Avalanche found a way to score six goals on a night they were clearly not at their best, overcoming their 4-2 deficit by scoring four times in what was the third six.
Avalanche striker Mikko Rantanen entered the third round with just one goal from the empty net, but he scored in each of those four games and had six points, raising his level of play when his team needed him most.
Avalanche also found a way to get ahead while running with reserve goalkeeper Pavel Francoz for the greater part of the series after Darcy Comber exited Game One with an upper body injury.
Kuemper wore his spare gear on Monday and should be good to go for Game 1 of the Stanley Cup Final against two-time champions Tampa Bay Lightning or the New York Rangers.
The final won’t start until June 15 at the earliest and could start on June 18, depending on how deep the Eastern Conference final is.
“A week off will help us with the suffocating (men) we have,” Rantanen said. “But we’re used to it. After the first round, we had a week off too, so it’s not new to us. From that series, it doesn’t matter at all. Who comes in, that’s what we play. We don’t care at all.”
There was definitely a sense of accomplishment for the Avalanche team who had endured three consecutive second-round runs prior to this current round.
But there’s a bigger goal in mind and the avalanche won’t be satisfied until they get to it.
“He’s obviously very special. Yeah, I mean, I’d probably be lying if I told you I thought we’d be here someday during the (2016-17) season,” said Landskog, referring to the year the team went 22-56-0-4. It finished last overall. “That was particularly difficult and that was as close to rock bottom as possible when it came to playing in the NHL.
“We changed a few things in how we do things around the rink and how we prepare and how we play and that comes with experience as well. And then you start doing playoffs the next year after that and you start to believe and then you start to see progress and you start to move. It was a loss in the second round. Three years in a row is tough, but you have to stumble at the finish line a few times sometimes before you cross it and I think that’s been true for us so far. The job isn’t done and it’s going to be another tough streak, but we’re going to get some rest here and get ready to go.”
The final word goes to Avalanche coach Jared Bednar, who is in his sixth season and continues to set the tone with his action-like approach and steady hand on the wheel.
“It’s just flexibility and faith, the guys just want to win and that goes ahead and makes plays at the crucial times. There is a lot of fighting in our team and I am really proud of them for what they have accomplished so far,” Bednar said. “Our first target was the regular season and then Round 1 and 2 and 3 which is a five step process for us to be the best team we can be.
“Get our habits right during the regular season and find a way to progress and keep trying to get better. We’ve done that. I’ve been with this team now, this is their sixth year, and they’ve had a lot of growth, mentally, structural – just the whole streak. They’re going to get a chance to play for it now. .Hopefully we can go out and put our best foot forward and go and win the thing.”