NEWARK, NEW JERSEY – OCTOBER 18: Mikko Rantanen #96 of the Colorado Avalanche (r) celebrates his empty net goal against the New Jersey Devils and is joined by Nathan MacKinnon #29 (l) and Nathan MacKinnon #29 (c) at the Prudential Center on October 18, 2018 in Newark, New Jersey. The Avalanche defeated the Devils 5-3. (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)

In the first-round playoff series, the Colorado Avalanche were able to surprise the top seed in the West Calgary Flames lost in just five games. Among the key moments in that series, the top players on each side was the most decisive part. Against Calgary’s struggling offensive players, Colorado’s Nathan MacKinnon and Mikko Rantanen proved to be too much to handle for the Flames. The Avalanche now wait patiently for the second round

Colorado Avalanche Nathan MacKinnon and Mikko Rantanen Too Much to Handle for Calgary

In Game 1, the Flames were able to shut the Avalanche out with a 4-0 win. During that time, it seemed like this is going to be an easy and short series. It definitely turned out to be a short series, but not for Calgary. The Avalanche were able to steal the next four games and it would not be done without their top skaters stepping up big time.

And it was not only about MacKinnon and Rantanen, but other Colorado forwards also played a key role. Captain Gabriel Landeskog collected four points after missed a few weeks with a shoulder injury in March. Matt Nieto came back with two short-handed goals and two assists. Colin Wilson connected for two goals and one assist in the final Game 5 in Calgary.

J.T. Compher also played a very important role for the Avalanche. He tied Game 2 late and brought them within one in the third period of Game 4. Defencemen also found their stride. Tyson Barrie had five assists in five games, while defensive Ian Cole had three assists in that series. Everybody on that roster contributed, but MacKinnon and Rantanen led the way.

Mikko Rantanen: From Injury Problems to Decisive Player

It was not an easy end of the regular season for Rantanen. He left the game versus the Dallas Stars with still eight games to go in the regular season with an injury. That time, he thought that he wasn’t going to miss a lot of time. However, he was out for the remainder of the regular season. The Avalanche needed him but made due without him. Even without their young elite player, the Avs went 5-0-2 in their following seven contests to clinch the playoff berth.

Prior to Game 1 in Calgary, Rantanen was doubtful to play. However, he got a nod from team doctors just one day before the first game. In Game 1, he looked rusty as his CF% was at 42.42 at even strength. Even though he played more than 20 minutes, it wasn’t his best game. In Game 2, Rantanen played much better. No points until three minutes to go in that contest, Rantanen assisted on the game-tying goal by Compher and also sent MacKinnon on a breakaway to win the overtime.

In Game 3, Rantanen had an assist and then he finally scored his first career playoff goal. With that tally, he made it 5-1, it was pretty much not an important goal. His next four tallies were way more important. In Game 4, he tied the game with less than three minutes to play and he also won it in overtime. In Game 5 to close out the series, Rantanen scored twice and added an assist. Coming from an injury and being rusty in Game 1, Rantanen wound up being the most decisive player for Colorado. In his five playoff games, the Finnish winger ended up with 52.49 at CF% and 61.16 at xGF% at even strength.

Nathan MacKinnon: Future Leader Leading Colorado Now

MacKinnon is living up to his promise of future team leader. He is just 23 and he is already played 456 regular season games. However, he has not won a playoff series before this season. Now he can scratch that column off. In the regular season, MacKinnon led his team’s last-minute bid for the playoff berth with 99 points.

Game 1 wasn’t good for anybody within the Avalanche and MacKinnon was no exception. In Game 2, he was patiently waiting for his first point. Then he struck in the overtime with blazing speed past Mikael Backlund, who is one of the best defensive forwards for Calgary. In Game 3, MacKinnon scored twice on the power play to open the scoring. In Game 4, he had an assist on the game-tying goal by Rantanen, as it was a beautiful setup by him. With a little help from Barrie, they got it done themselves. During that game, he has logged 28:49 of the ice-time, which is his career high.

MacKinnon picked three points with three helpers in Game 5. He ended up the series with three goals and five assists for eight points while being at 55.77 at CF% and 58.46 at xGF%. His overall play was admirable. MacKinnon skated with tremendous speed and it was key in moments like that overtime game-winner in Game 2.

Secondary Scoring Showing Up For Colorado Avalanche Too

MacKinnon and Rantanen someow picked all of the praise for magnificent series by the Avalanche. Letting them shine at the most significant moments, there was a lot of story behind those highlight players. Rantanen won Game 4 and Game 5, MacKinnon won Game 2. Three of the four victories came off the stick of one of these two guys. The other game-winner was courtesy of Cale Makar in his NHL debut.

Makar came to substitute for the injured Samuel Girard. In Game 3, which was his first NHL game, he scored an eventual game-winner. From a points perspective, he added “just” one assist later in Game 5. His xCF% was at 68.63 and his xGF% at 75.73 at even strength in his three games. That is pretty impressive for a young defenceman.

Tyson Jost had no points in the series as he had 11 goals and 15 assists in the regular season. Statistically speaking, he was one of the best defensive forwards for head coach Jared Bednar. He didn’t get the credit for anything huge, but he did all the dirty work. His xGF% was at 78.22 and his CF% at 69.57 at even strength in those five contests. In both categories, he ranks first among Avalanche players.

Nieto after just four goals in the regular season had two shorthanded goals and added two assists. Wilson on just one assist in his first four games had two goals and an assist in Game 5. There was a whole lot more than just the two main stars.

What Is The Ceiling For Colorado Now?

Right now, anything can seemingly happen in the 2019 Stanley Cup playoffs. The Flames were the top-seeded team in the Western Conference and Colorado took them down in only five games. They played like one solid and experienced five-man unit every time they stepped on the ice. The Avalanche showed great resiliency, patience and a lot of energy.

This young team is hungry for even more. As the Landeskog said immediately after Game 5 on the ice, the Avs don’t mind who they face in the playoffs. They just feel very comfortable right now and their confidence is at a very high level. The Avalanche have definitely shown it in that Game 5. It was all about them being hungrier than their opponent.

That has been the first playoff series win for the Avalanche since 2008. Nobody from the current roster remembers it. Majority of the players have never even witnessed winning the playoff series themselves. Of course, Philipp Grubauer won the Stanley Cup last year, but he played just two games in that cup run.

The inexperience has been very entertaining to overcome collectively with a talented group playing with confidence and delight. Maybe they will fail in the second round, maybe not. This is a story being written for its next chapters to be introduced beyond this playoffs as well.

NEWARK, NEW JERSEY – OCTOBER 18: Mikko Rantanen #96 of the Colorado Avalanche (r) celebrates his empty net goal against the New Jersey Devils and is joined by Nathan MacKinnon #29 (l) and Gabriel Landeskog  (c) at the Prudential Center on October 18, 2018 in Newark, New Jersey. The Avalanche defeated the Devils 5-3. (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)


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