EDMONTON — It’s still fuzzy in a couple of places but the NHL playoff picture is starting to come into focus and if the surviving teams weren’t aware of the threat posed by the Colorado Avalanche, they are now.
Wednesday the Avalanche became one of three teams to punch their ticket to the second round of the Stanley Cup tournament with a demolition of the Arizona Coyotes. In a later game, Philadelphia also had a chance to knock out Montreal.
The Avs’ 7-1 victory gave them a convincing five-game series win over the hapless Coyotes. Over the life of the series they outscored their opponent 22-8, including 14-2 over the final two games. In their Game 5 win they scored on back-to-back power plays in the first half of the first period, added a third on Nazem Kadri’s second goal of the game, then coasted to victory.
Elsewhere on Wednesday, Tampa Bay and Boston advanced to the second round as the pretenders were exposed and the contenders emerged. The Canucks-Blues game, which got underway at the traditional and stupidly late 8:45 p.m. local start time in Edmonton, was the only game that didn’t have elimination consequences.
“There’s no question,” said Coyotes coach Rick Tocchet. “We were overmatched.”
The next question is who will be a match for the Avs?
“I most definitely think we’re ready to make that next step, no doubt,” said Colorado captain Gabriel Landeskog who’s now in, can it be?, his ninth year with the team. “We’ve grown together and we’ve been through the bad.
“We’ve seen the product we can put on the ice. When we do our job and work for one another, we can do some really good things.”
In disposing of the Coyotes, the Avs made an early statement on the power play and Tocchet’s team never put up an argument. Kadri opened the scoring as the Avs’ scary-good first power-play unit — Kadri, Nathan MacKinnon, Cale Makar, Landeskog and Mikko Rantanen — toyed with the Yotes’ penalty killers. Three minutes later, the second unit, which isn’t too shabby, struck when Samuel Girard’s point shot beat Darcy Kuemper.
Kadri scored his second goal of the period on a late breakaway. The former Maple Leaf scored four goals over the final two games.
MacKinnon added back-to-back goals in the middle frame, the second on another power play before the Avs put their game on cruise control over the final 30 minutes.
“That line is incredible,” Tocchet said of the MacKinnon trio.
“We had a game plan,” said defenceman Nikita Zadorov. “Wear them down and keep pushing.”
The Avs, in fact, have the look of a legitimate power all the way around. You wonder about their goaltending. Philipp Grubauer got the win on Wednesday and he’s 5-0 in the post-season with Pavel Francouz as the backup. But, with their firepower, they don’t need their goalies to win games.
They just need them not to lose them.
The incandescent MacKinnon, who now leads all playoff scorers, is the foundation of the franchise but general manager Joe Sakic has surrounded him with a young, talented supporting cast who all seem to play at Warp 6. In this post-season, the MacKinnon-Landeskog-Rantanen line have combined for seven goals and 31 points, but the second line of Kadri, Andre Burakovsky and Joonas Donskoi have combined for 12 goals, and the emergence of Makar as a game-breaking defenceman gives the Avs another threat.
Not that they need one.
MacKinnon is now in his seventh year in Colorado. The only players who are left from his rookie season are Landeskog and defenceman Erik Johnson.
“Things have changed a lot since then,” he said. “We were trying to claw into the playoffs. Then it was a celebration to make the playoffs and it was a huge deal we beat Calgary last year.
“We feel like our time has arrived. We haven’t won anything. But it’s a different feel after winning this series. There’s a good vibe to our team.”
And it’s only getting better.