Strange season comes to an end on cursed date in Avalanche history

May 1, 2023, 6:44 AM

Nathan MacKinnon...

(Photo by Matthew Stockman/Getty Images)

(Photo by Matthew Stockman/Getty Images)

The last time the Avs had a Game 7 at Ball Arena was nine years ago to the date of this year’s Game 7 matchup against Seattle. The result was a devastating loss to Minnesota.

Four times the Avs led in that game. And four times they gave it away before eventually falling in overtime. Ryan O’Reilly was iconically pictured frozen with his head in his hands in full uniform long after the game was over.

After the 2-1 loss to the Kraken eliminating the Avs from the playoffs, Cale Makar was in a similar pose.

Makar, in full uniform, sat motionless in his locker long after the game was finished. Trying to comprehend what had just happened in this jinxed year was difficult for such an intense competitor to understand.

“It’s tough,” said Makar after eventually gathering himself to talk to the media like the true pro he is. “Looking back, everybody left it out there. It’s tough to grasp right now. I just hate losing. It’s the worst part of this.”

The uphill climb to defend their Stanley Cup championship was on shaky ground all year. The injuries were devastating. It was one key player after another scuttled from the lineup. The straw that broke the camel’s back was the bizarre loss of Valeri Nichushkin to parts unknown after what appears to be absurd reckless behavior.

“It was another test for our group,” said coach Jared Bednar in regards to the missing Choo Choo train. “Sometimes, life throws things at you and so does sport. You just gotta keep grinding and overcome them. It is what it is.”

When the coach rolls out that cliche, it’s time to turn the lights out. The season is over.

Despite the missing players, the Avalanche played better in Game 7 than the Kraken. They dominated in shots on goal and scored a power-play goal on the only penalty of the game. The Kraken got lucky on their first goal, as it bounced off Ben Meyer’s glove past Alexandar Georgiev. Their second goal was legit as Oliver Bjorkstrand broke in snapping the puck past Georgie for a 2-0 lead in the second.

The Avs didn’t waver or quit at any point. In fact, they battled even harder when they were down.

Nathan MacKinnon would drive a missile off of Mikko Rantanen’s butt for the deflection goal on the Avs only power play to cut the lead to 2-1 right before the second intermission. Then early in the third, MacK would blast another rocket past Seattle goalie Philipp Grubauer.

But the hockey gods simply weren’t having it. Seattle challenged the series of plays looking for a reversal. Despite the refs whistle going silent, a reviewed offsides negated the score.

Game, set and match, Kraken.

“Weirdest season in my career for sure,” said Mikko Rantanen. “We had adversity all year. Probably the most injuries of any team this year. But it’s tough. You get to the playoffs and you want to win again, right? Maybe you don’t have the same team. But I’m proud of the team. We battled all year.”

Mikko set insane personal and team scoring records. His “butt” goal was his seventh against Seattle which tied Joe Sakic for most goals in a playoff series. He eclipsed Sakic for goals in a season and his 50-plus goal season was the first by a Finnish player since Teemu Selanne in 1998. The Moose was spectacular.

MacKinnon was god-like.

But, frankly, that was it.

The Avs were missing their entire second-line. Bednar praised the effort by those who were there, but it became more ridiculous as time went on. As strange as it may sound, losing the series to the Kraken may be just what the doctor ordered.

The Avs had zero chance to win the Cup this year and they knew it. All Avs fans deep in their heart knew it. While there was no shortage of enthusiasm for the team, the celebration hangover never quite found its way out of their system. Losing a gutsy heart and soul player like Andrew Cogliano to a broken neck was another “you gotta be kidding me” moment.

When you enter Game 7 thinking that Kurtis MacDermind might play, you know the Hollywood script writers have jumped the shark. The team was out of gas despite a hard fought effort all year long.

“Obviously, during the season, we’re gonna say all the right things,” said an honest MacKinnon. “It’s hard missing the guys. It’s not making an excuse but missing five, six guys from last year’s team (was difficult). I thought we played a really great game just couldn’t find the back of the net.”

April 30 is now a cursed date in Avalanche history. Two different Game 7 losses will scar the Avs fans memory banks forever. In a postseason where the Avs, Bruins and Lightning all tapped out in the first round, it’s a reminder of how special the cup run was last year.

Now, it’s time for tough decisions. The core of the Avs remains the same with two large questions about the health of Landeskog and the future of Nichushkin remaining.

It’s finally time to take breath. Reflection, healing and maybe a few margaritas on a beach somewhere could be useful in resetting and recharging what is still an uber-talented team.

Bednar said he’s already thinking about how to improve things for next year. The Avs fans will quickly write this year off to a set of circumstances beyond anybody’s control. Although, making excuses is weak, the Avs have a legitimate case to explain why this year may be a blip in the radar during a legacy-type run.

Rest up, Avs. We expect to see the real team next year.



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Strange season comes to an end on cursed date in Avalanche history