Rocky Mountain High! 4 Takeaways from the Avalanche's Game 6 Win

Lyle Fitzsimmons@@fitzbitzFeatured Columnist IIIJune 27, 2022

Rocky Mountain High! 4 Takeaways from the Avalanche's Game 6 Win

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    AP Photo/John Bazemore

    The king is dead. Long live the king.

    The Colorado Avalanche beat the Tampa Bay Lighting 2-1 on Sunday night to win the 2022 Stanley Cup Final in six games and end the Lightning's two-year run as NHL champions.

    Artturi Lehkonen's goal with 7:32 remaining in the second period proved to be the game-winner after Tampa Bay had opened the scoring in the first period and Colorado's Nathan MacKinnon evened it up just 1:54 into the second.

    Cale Makar, who won the Norris Trophy earlier this week as the league's best defenseman, was awarded the Conn Smythe Trophy as the most valuable player in the playoffs.

    He's the first player in league history to win the Hobey Baker Award as the nation's best college player and the Calder Trophy as the NHL's rookie of the year, in addition to the Norris, the Conn Smythe and the Stanley Cup.

    The B/R hockey team took a look at Game 6 and put together a list of takeaways. Scroll through to see what we came up with, and drop a thought or two of your own in the comments.

Nathan Mackinnon Cements His Legacy

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    Of the young stars in the league, MacKinnon ranks up there among the best.

    But even if you're among the groups that claim Connor McDavid or Auston Matthews are superior to the Colorado Avalanche forward, he officially has something they don't.

    The Stanley Cup.

    After five series games in which he'd scored just once on 28 shots, the 2013 No. 1 overall pick flexed his championship-ready muscles in the clincher by scoring the game-tying goal early in the second and assisting on the Cup clincher half a period later.

    He finished the playoffs with 13 goals, tying Edmonton's Evander Kane for the league lead, and 24 points, which were third on the team behind Conn Smythe-winner Makar and linemate Mikko Rantanen.

    Now 26, MacKinnon has been a point-per-game player in the regular season for five straight years and has now produced at that rate in all six playoff appearances with Colorado, registering 93 points in 70 games.

    For comparison's sake, Matthews has 33 points in 39 career playoff games with the Toronto Maple Leafs, while McDavid has 55 points in 37 games with Edmonton.

Joe Sakic Built the Avs for Success

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    AP Photo/David Zalubowski

    Joe Sakic was a Stanley Cup-winning player in Colorado.

    But the moves he made to assemble the Avalanche's latest championship team as a general manager warrant a similar amount of praise these days.

    Among the players that hoisted the Cup on Sunday night, several came in trade-deadline moves that Sakic made to support homegrown core players like MacKinnon and Makar.

    Artturi Lehkonen was drafted by Montreal and had spent parts of six seasons with the Canadiens, including an appearance in the 2020-21 Final against the Lightning, before Sakic brought him over on March 21 in a deal for minor-leaguer Justin Barron and a second-round pick in 2024.

    Veterans Josh Manson and Andrew Cogliano, who'd combined for more than 1,500 NHL games, were brought over the same week from Anaheim and San Jose, respectively, for a collective haul that included one player and two draft picks.

    Several weeks prior to the 2021-22 season, Sakic acquired goalie Darcy Kuemper from Arizona for two picks and a player, and, one year earlier, he snatched defenseman Devon Toews from the New York Islanders for two picks and immediately signed him to a four-year, $16.4 million deal.

    All played vital roles, with the skaters combining for 19 goals and 24 assists in the 20-game playoff run and Kuemper going 10-4 in 16 starts with a 2.57 goals-against average and a .902 save percentage.

Darcy Kuemper Stands Tall in the End

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    AP Photo/Phelan Ebenhack

    No Avalanche player was doubted more than Kuemper.

    He won the first two games with little sustained pressure on him but was pulled from Game 3 after giving up five goals and surrendered just enough soft ones to make people think the needle had moved to Tampa Bay's side as the series progressed.

    Then Game 6 happened.

    And while Kuemper hardly had to be Vezina Trophy-quality in stopping 22-of-23 shots, he held up well after allowing the game's first goal less than four minutes in.

    He was only called upon nine times in the second and then only four times in the third, but he stoned Nikita Kucherov from in close in the waning moments and never appeared uncomfortable or out of place as the Lightning vainly tried to press the action.

    Ryan Sikes @ryan_sikes10

    Kuemper with a big-time save on Kucherov's one-timer <a href="https://twitter.com/hashtag/StanleyCup?src=hash&amp;ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">#StanleyCup</a> <a href="https://t.co/2Eshsha3Ns">pic.twitter.com/2Eshsha3Ns</a>

    In six games, he stopped 138-of-152 shots (.908 save percentage) and had a 2.45 goals-against average. And in Games 4-6, in spite of the occasional mistake, those numbers improved to .934 and 1.89, respectively, compared to Tampa Bay's Andrei Vasilevskiy, who posted a .933 and a 2.21 in the same stretch.

Avs Depth Holds Up

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    AP Photo/David Zalubowski

    No team wins a Cup without injuries.

    And while significant time was spent discussing the absence of Tampa Bay's Brayden Point and others, the Avalanche locker room was fairly reminiscent of a M.A.S.H. unit as well.

    Defenseman Samuel Girard was lost for the rest of the playoffs after breaking his sternum following a hit during the second-round series against the St. Louis Blues, while forward Andre Burakovsky missed the final four games of the matchup against the Lightning after being struck in the hand by a shot in Game 2.

    The latter scored the overtime goal that ended Game 1.

    Forward Nazem Kadri was injured in the Western Conference Final series against Edmonton and didn't play until Game 4 in Tampa Bay, where he scored the OT game-winner. Forward Valeri Nichushkin only skated briefly in a T-shirt and shorts on Sunday morning after winding up with his right leg in an ice bag after Game 5 on Friday.

    Nevertheless, Kadri and Nichushkin combined to play more than 40 minutes in Game 6, and the Avalanche got just enough out of depth players like Darren Helm (9:56 ice time), J.T. Compher (8:54), and Cogliano (9:34) to whether the series-clinching storm.

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