Last week’s Game 2 home loss to the St. Louis Blues appeared costly for the Colorado Avalanche. They headed east hoping to regroup.
Now, after a successful — and controversial — trip to St. Louis for Games 3 and 4, it looks like the Stanley Cup favorites are on the brink of moving on.
The Avalanche swept the two games from the Blues in St. Louis on Saturday and Monday to take a 3-1 lead in the Western Conference semifinal series, and they can close it out when the teams meet for Game 5 on Wednesday night in Denver.
A win at home, where Colorado has lost just six times in regulation since the start of the regular season, will put the Avalanche into the conference finals for the first time in 20 years.
Joe Sakic was the captain of that Colorado team that lost in seven games to Detroit in the conference finals, and he is the only one still around — as the team vice president and general manager. After being eliminated three straight years in the second round, he has a team that can overcome that obstacle.
Beating St. Louis again will take an effort similar to the past two games. The Avalanche were the better team in those 5-2 and 6-3 wins, but fuel was added when Nazem Kadri and Calle Rosen ran into goaltender Jordan Binnington on Saturday night, knocking him out of the rest of the series.
Critical comments by Binnington and Blues coach Craig Berube after that game were motivation for Kadri, who had a hat trick in Game 4.
“It started with their head coach, probably. He made some comments that I wasn’t a fan of,” said Kadri, who has received threats and racist messages from anonymous people. “I guess he’s never heard of bulletin-board material.”
St. Louis has done its best to try to shut down Colorado’s top line but others, like Kadri, have stepped up. The Blues will have to increase their intensity after Berube said his team was outworked Monday night.
“It’s pretty simple. I don’t know why. We got outskated,” Berube said. “They outskated us. Got to every loose puck. Lost a lot of puck battles.”
The Blues did avoid losing David Perron for Game 5. The league fined him $5,000 for his cross-check on Kadri in the second period of Game 4. Perron has four goals in the past three games and has been their best offensive player.
While St. Louis is adjusting to the loss of Binnington, the Avalanche bounced back quickly from losing defenseman Samuel Girard for the rest of the playoffs. He suffered a broken sternum in Game 3.
Jack Johnson stepped into the lineup for Girard and logged 15:07 of ice time. Coach Jared Bednar can also use Kurtis MacDermid or Ryan Murray as the sixth defenseman if needed.
The franchises have been in this position before. Colorado and St. Louis met in the 2001 Western Conference finals, and the Avalanche held a 3-1 lead after a Game 4 road win before they eliminated the Blues in Game 5 on an overtime goal from Sakic.