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Avalanche's Stanley Cup Win a Testament to Patience Paying Off

Abbey MastraccoJune 27, 2022

Andy Cross/MediaNews Group/The Denver Post via Getty Images

TAMPA, Fla. — Cale Makar's most famous words of the 2022 Stanley Cup Final weren't his last, they were his first.

"They're a team that's looking to have a dynasty," Makar said on media day, prior to the start of the Colorado Avalanche's championship series against the two-time defending champions in the Tampa Bay Lighting. "We're a team trying to start a legacy."

Their legacy may have begun Sunday night.

The Avalanche ended the Lightning's bid for their third straight Stanley Cup. A 2-1 comeback win in Game 6 at Amalie Arena gave the Avs their first Stanley Cup championship since 2001 and the third in club history. With a talented young core in place, this might not be the last time you see this team in this position in the coming years.

It's a culmination of patience and prudence shown by Avalanche GM Joe Sakic. The team tasted bitter disappointment in recent years, losing in the second round in three consecutive postseasons and in the first the year before that.

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But much like when the Presidents' Trophy-winning Bolts were swept in the first round of the 2019 playoffs, the adversity served them well. Tampa Bay stayed the course and turned into a juggernaut.

Sakic did the same, knowing his team would be better for it. He didn't fire coach Jared Bednar after the team lost to the Vegas Golden Knights last year, and he didn't make drastic changes to the roster.

"Sometimes you have to go through some tough times," Sakic said. "We thought we were in a real good place last year, and it didn't happen. And it didn't happen quick. You saw the emotion from Nathan [MacKinnon] after we lost to Vegas [last year]. But I can tell you, right from day one of training camp, they came ready to go. They all had worked extremely hard in the offseason. You can tell that they weren't happy and they were ready to be prepared."

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"We learned to play the right way with a lead and manage the puck. That was the biggest difference this year from last year."

Sakic's deft management not only fortified the roster this season but also improved the team's leadership.

His deadline acquisitions included defenseman Josh Manson, who bailed out goalie Darcy Kuemper with a goal-line save in Game 6 of the second round, which ultimately allowed the Avs to win the game and eliminate the St. Louis Blues.

"The whole St. Louis trip was a turning point for our team," Makar said. "The whole experience of giving up a Game 5 and losing, the mentality flipped right after that game. We were like, 'We're going to win [the next game].' And we found a way with four seconds or so left. Manson made an incredible play for us."

Sakic also brought in Artturi Lehkonen, who scored the game-winner for the Montreal Canadiens to send them to the Stanley Cup last season and the game-winner in Game 6.

He also brought in veteran winger Andrew Cogliano, who brought the team together Saturday night and delivered a motivational speech, along with MacKinnon and captain Gabriel Landeskog.

"When a guy like that talks, you listen," Makar said. "He spoke to us, it was him and Landy and Nate, basically just calmed the guys down and made sure that, regardless of the outcome, we just put it all out there and see where the game lies."

The emotional leadership the veterans provided was a huge boost, but it also helps to have all-world players like Makar. The Avs' defensemen scored 18 goals and assisted on 49 for 67 points. Only the 1985 Edmonton Oilers received a larger contribution from their defense corps with 77 points. Makar was at the center of it all throughout the postseason, along with defense partner Devon Toews.

The newly crowned Norris Trophy winner's 29 points were the most points by a defenseman in one postseason in 28 years and the fourth-highest in Stanley Cup history. His point total was the second-highest ever recorded by an Avs player, with the highest mark (34 points) having been set by Sakic.

"Best player in the world," Colorado defenseman Bowen Byram told Bleacher Report.

The way they jump into the rush makes it feel like Colorado has five forwards on the ice, yet they're still able to contain the puck, retrieve it and slow down the opposing forwards when needed. It's incredibly effective with the right personnel.

"I feel like a difference-maker in this series, it could have been that, maybe individual-wise," Makar said. "But I feel like for us, our main thing was that we always wanted to be up in the rush and give our forwards options because they're so good at gaps and so on and so on."

For longtime veterans such as Erik Johnson, Jack Johnson and Cogliano, it's the ultimate payoff. Cogliano had come close to the Cup once before in 2015 with the Anaheim Ducks, but that team lost to the Chicago Blackhawks in Game 7 of the Western Conference Final. It was a devastating blow for a contending team. The club largely shared the same sentiment: You never know when you're going to get another chance at a Cup.

Cogliano finally got one again.

"I think the biggest thing is, to say you're a champion, that's the biggest title you can get in this game," Cogliano said. "To beat a team like that is something special. This team deserved it. I really do think that. This is a great bunch of people from the top down. And we earned it."

MacKinnon also had some famous words last year: "I haven't won s--t."

He can now say he's won it all.

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