Deen’s List: How the Avalanche were able to sweep Edmonton en route to the Stanley Cup Final

Jun 6, 2022; Edmonton, Alberta, CAN; The Colorado Avalanche are presented the Campbell Bowl after the overtime win in game four of the Western Conference Final of the 2022 Stanley Cup Playoffs at Rogers Place. Mandatory Credit: Walter Tychnowicz-USA TODAY Sports

EDMONTON, Alberta — Heading into what many pegged to be a must-see matchup, the Avalanche proved to be in a league of their own atop the Western Conference. The Edmonton Oilers — led by the superstar duo of Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl — were unable to snatch even a single victory away from the Avs.

It took four games. And Colorado scored a whopping 22 goals in the process.

But how were the Avalanche able to stick it to the Oilers? There was a lot that went into the sweep. And many of these reasons are why Colorado enters the Stanley Cup Final feeling great about its chances to win it all for the first time since 2001.

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Makar outduels McDavid

Heading into the series, the storylines were centered around Edmonton’s Connor McDavid taking on Colorado’s Nathan MacKinnon. Two former No. 1 overall picks, two of the best players in the league and two of the most exciting goal scorers in the NHL. It was an intriguing matchup from the opening draw.

What perhaps was lost in all the hype was how Cale Makar was going to fit into all of this. The young star defenseman was tasked — along with partner Devon Toews — with shutting down McDavid and his line.

Not only were they able to hold McDavid to three goals and Draisaitl goal-less, but Makar even outproduced McDavid along the way.

McDavid had seven points compared to Makar, who had five in the series-clinching game alone and nine in four games.

Depth

The Oilers had the star power atop the lineup but their depth was just no match for that of Colorado’s. On the top pair, No. 1 Oilers defenseman Darnell Nurse was playing alongside Cody Ceci.

Colorado’s No. 2 defenseman, Toews, is arguably better than Nurse himself. And that doesn’t include pieces like Bowen Byram, Erik Johnson and even Josh Manson, who provide more support than Edmonton’s lower pairs.

But it stretches past the blueline. Colorado’s third-line center J.T. Compher had as many goals as McDavid in the series. The Avs’ fourth line outmatched Edmonton’s and despite losing starting goalie Darcy Kuemper to injury, backup Pavel Francouz casually entered the series and won all four games.

Goaltending

Neither Mike Smith for the Oilers nor Francouz for the Avs was at their best at all times. But when the games entered the final stretch and a save needed to be made, Edmonton wasn’t able to get it from Smith.

The Avs themselves had a tough showing in the third period in Game 1 and again in Game 4, but Francouz shut out the Oilers in Game 2 and held them to just two goals the following match.

Special teams

Colorado possessed the puck a majority of the series which led to more opportunities on the power play. While Edmonton coach Jay Woodcroft was busy complaining about the discrepancy, the Avs were taking advantage of those man advantages. Colorado had 18 power plays compared to 11 for the Oilers — and a 16-6 advantage in the first three games.

And in Game 4, where the Avs had just two chances, they scored on both.

Advantage, Colorado.

Coaching

Head coach Jared Bednar needed to make a number of adjustments along the way. Without Nazem Kadri for Game 4, he moved Mikko Rantanen to center and even cycled Andre Burakovsky and Compher into the top six. That was just one display of solid coaching.

After Game 2, the Oilers were looking forward to having the ability to set the matchups at home. The goal was to keep McDavid away from Makar, to which Bednar said he would find a way around.

And he did. Rather than letting his bottom two pairs face heavy minutes against Edmonton’s top stars, Bednar upped the minutes of both Makar and Toews, ensuring that one — if not both — were on the ice as much as possible against McDavid.

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Aarif Deen is our Colorado Avalanche beat reporter. He covers Avs games live from Ball Arena and attends practices, media availabilities and other events pertaining to the Avs on the daily beat. He is also a co-host of Hockey Mountain High: Your go-to Avalanche Podcast. Deen joined Mile High Sports upon completion of his bachelor’s degree in journalism and master’s in business administration from the University of Michigan – Dearborn. Before Mile High Sports, Deen worked for the Michigan Wolverines Athletics Department as the assistant sports information director.

Follow him on Twitter @runwriteAarif

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