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By Drew Galyardt
For the first time since 2001, your Colorado Avalanche have returned to the Stanley Cup Finals! As the Avs get ready to take on the Tampa Bay Lightning, let’s take a look at how the West was won, and how some of our favorite Eagles helped them get there.
The Avalanche finished the regular season with a record of 56-19-7 for 119 points and first in the Central Division. The Big Four of Mikko Rantanen, Nathan MacKinnon, Nazem Kadri and Cale Makar led the Avs in points during the regular season, with all of them scoring over 80 points. During the regular season, however, some Eagles alumni also showed they could produce over a full season. Alex Newhook notched 13 goals and 20 assists in 71 games played this season, while Logan O’Connor played an impressive 81 games in the regular season with eight goals and 18 assists for 24 points. While those numbers didn’t lead the Avs, it showed the depth Colorado has and the production that can come with it. Newhook was 10th on the team in points, with O’Connor coming in at 13th.
Scoring wasn’t the only place the Avalanche excelled during the regular season. The men between the pipes also showed up to impress on the year. Starter Darcy Kuemper was 37-12-4 on the season, with a .921 save-percentage and a 2.54 GAA. Backup and Eagles alumni Pavel Francouz was right behind him with an equally impressive resume. Francouz went 15-5-1 with a .914 save-percentage and a 2.55 GAA. During the regular season, current Eagle, Justus Annunen got the call-up twice, posting a record of 1-0-1, and was the only goaltender on the Avs roster to register a point during the regular season.
The Avalanche knew that just getting to the playoffs wasn't enough and that the journey had just begun. The first round went Colorado’s way from the get-go with a 7-2 win in Game One over Nashville. During the four-game sweep, the Avs outscored the Predators 21-9, scoring five goals or more in three of the four contests. The second round was more of a test against St. Louis. The first two games could have gone either way, with Colorado winning game one in overtime and falling in game two. The Avs rattled off the next two wins, scoring over five goals in each to give themselves a series lead of 3-1. After a loss in overtime in game five, the Avs finally closed it out in game six to advance to the Western Conference Finals. The Western Conference featured Colorado going up against the Edmonton Oilers, a team that knocked out their Alberta rivals, the Calgary Flames, in five games. The Avs wasted no time dispatching the Oilers, getting their second series sweep of the playoffs and outscoring the Oilers, 20-13 to win the Western Conference.
The usual suspects from the regular season have led Colorado so far in the playoff standings, with Makar pacing the team with 22 points (5 goals, 17 assists), while MacKinnon (11g, 7a), Gabriel Landeskog (8g, 9a) and Rantanen (5g, 12a) are all in close pursuit. The Eagles alums are also producing so far in the playoffs, with O’Connor notching a goal and two assists in 11 games, Newhook registering two assists in six games, and Francouz making six appearances in net, going 6-0 on four starts, including the last three against the Oilers. Through three rounds, he has a .906 save percentage and a 2.86 GAA.
As the depth continues to be tested throughout the playoffs, the Avalanche rely on their "Black Aces" for help with the injury bug. The term “Black Aces” originated from Hall of Fame Defenseman Eddie Shore, who had purchased a minor league team in 1940 and referred to extra rostered players by the term. It was in reference to superstitious card players being dealt the ace of spades.
Every NHL team that qualifies for the playoffs has an expanded roster in the postseason. These groups of players are called up from each team’s respective AHL squads, as well as injured players that are working to return to the NHL roster. For the Avalanche, their "Black Aces" are:
These players consistently practice at a high tempo to help stay in hockey shape and are ready to play for the Avalanche at a moment’s notice. It is considered a high honor for a prospect to be named for a team’s "Black Aces" squad.
The Avalanche have waited 21 years for another opportunity to lift the Stanley Cup. All that’s left to do for now is to wait and see if the Avs can bring Stanley back home and which players will be the heroes in the games that count the most.
Drew Galyardt is the in-studio host and show producer for the Colorado Eagles radio broadcasts on 99.9 The Point where he just finished his fourth season. He also works in the Eagles front office as an Account Executive for the ticketing department.