With us stuck in the dog days of summer and no more relevant Avalanche news to come, I've decided to dig up one of the best moments from last season. As the Avalanche were staring down the barrel of elimination in game five of their first-round playoff series against the Nashville Predators, Colorado's top line went to work. What followed was an incredible display of teamwork between all five Avalanche players contributing to a highlight Avalanche fans will enjoy re-living for years to come.
A perfect transition
This is perfect right from the beginning of the clip. Nashville is just finishing a line change and instead of reversing the puck safely, Sam Girard gathers it and bangs it off the boards to Mikko Rantanen, who is by himself thanks to the slow line change. This decision by Girard immediately puts pressure on the Nashville defense and they aren't able to hold the blue line against Colorado's big top line.
Behind the play, the defensemen change, which will be a key decision from Girard and Mark Barberio. Meanwhile, Rantanen moves to puck to Gabe Landeskog, who just gets the puck to Nathan MacKinnon in time to stay onside as they cross into the offensive zone. Right away you see the Nashville defense overreact to MacKinnon with the puck as they send three players after him. He fights off a stick check and creates time and space for himself by curling to the wall with the puck.
The puck movement and collective decision-making all were perfect to capitalize on the line change. This gave Colorado the upper hand for the entirety of the shift as you'll consistently see Predators players scrambling around their own zone, a rarity for a very well-coached defensive squad. The pressure the Avalanche apply causes Nashville players to overcommit in a variety of situations, as we'll see below.
Barrie walks the line
MacKinnon's head is now up as he surveys the ice for help and he gets it in the form of Nikita Zadorov and Tyson Barrie, who have just come onto the ice. MacKinnon hits Zadorov with a pass, who fires a shot but the puck goes wide. This is where Colorado gets credit as a team for simply outworking the Predators as they stayed disciplined when Nashville was still scrambling around trying to put bodies in shooting lanes.
Rantanen retrieves the puck and instead of trying to feather a pass through traffic to MacKinnon, who was ready for a one-timer, Rantanen plays it safe and gets it to Barrie. The slick-skating defenseman puts on a little show here as he forces a reaching attacking Nashville player to follow him out to the blue line as Zadorov and Rantanen regroup. Barrie fights through traffic, eventually getting the puck to his backhand and passes it to MacKinnon, who allows it to cycle instead of corraling it with his back to the defense.
The move by Barrie there is a great example of what a special player he is offensively. There aren't many NHL defenders who would have the confidence, let alone raw ability, to make that play in that situation. It's a combination of his excellent edgework and hands that free him up to make a great play.
Hard work gets it done
When MacKinnon allows the puck to cycle, Landeskog immediately vacates his position in front of the net to chase the puck. Once there, he takes a hit to make the play, passing the puck to Rantanen, who combine with Zadorov and MacKinnon to work the puck back to Barrie. Barrie takes a low-percentage wrist shot but his ability to get it through plays an important role in the entire sequence to follow.
Landeskog looks like he's trying to put in the rebound off Barrie's shot but he misses the net and the puck whips around the boards, creating a 50-50 puck that could have ended the entire Avalanche threat.
More hard work
For a sequence that includes some high talent, this part of the play is just about hard work and winning all of the little battles. This picks up right after Landeskog's missed shot on the rebound. Zadorov reads the play well and his contesting of the puck forces the Nashville player to weakly backhand the puck up the boards. MacKinnon, who is all over the zone in these 30 seconds, reads the weak clearing attempt and corrals the puck before it is able to leave the zone.
Once he's taken back control of the puck, he eschews the option to pass to Barrie, whose stick is cocked and ready for a one-timer. MacKinnon instead opts for a weak wrist shot on net, which fails to get all the way through and ends up in the corner.
All of this hard work has resulted in four shots (Zadorov, Barrie, MacKinnon, Landeskog), which would be pretty impressive for a shift, but the Avalanche weren't even close to done. After the MacKinnon shot bounces to the corner, Rantanen chases it down while Nashville continues to be weak on the puck along the boards in favor of trying to keep the front of their net clogged with bodies just in case.
The conservative approach cost them mightily as Colorado's raw talent takes center stage here. Rantanen makes a nice play to reverse the puck to his backhand and follows it with just a ridiculous pass to MacKinnon. The rest is pure hockey poetry. He embarrasses P.K. Subban, who goes for a Vancouver Canuck-style stomach swim before outwaiting Pekka Rinne and watching Ryan Ellis plow into Rinne, opening the net entirely.
Everyone on the planet expected MacKinnon to shoot, even Landeskog, who got caught watching MacKinnon's brilliance even after he instinctively curled off Ellis. Landeskog realizes what's happening just in time as he puts his stick on the ice as the puck arrives from a perfect MacKinnon pass. Landeskog then simply shovels the puck into the net, tying the game, stunning the home team and silencing its notoriously raucous crowd.
This last clip is a glimpse of the high-level talent the Avalanche possess and with Landeskog the elder statesman of the line at just 25-years-old, there's plenty of reason to expect more of this on the big stage as these players work their way through their 20s. While game six back in Denver didn't produce anything beyond finality of an unexpectedly hard-fought first-round series, this sequence that tied game five shortly before Sven Andrighetto scored the eventual game-winning goal shows Colorado has the high-level horses to put a scare into the rest of the Central Division.