LAS VEGAS — Identifying the positives for the Avalanche is difficult for a team that thrilled its fan base in the regular season and the first round of the playoffs, only to lose four consecutive games to Vegas.
The Avalanche left Las Vegas with a hangover that’s bound to last throughout the offseason, which began Friday. The targeted start date for next season is Oct. 12.
Positives for the 2021 seasons were many but difficult to find in the immediate aftermath of their shocking end to their season, a 6-3 loss to Vegas in Game 6 here late Thursday. The Avs, the No. 1 overall playoff seed, became the fourth divisional top seed to bow out of the playoffs.
“It’s tough to find any (positives) because nobody wants to play just a good regular season and then lose in the second round,” Avalanche right winger Mikko Rantanen said. “I know all of us wanted to win, and that’s what we were pushing for. So right now it’s tough to find positives.”
The negatives? Playoff inconsistency from the top line and costly turnovers, particularly in the final two games during which the Avs outshot and generally outplayed the Knights but lost anyway. And Colorado didn’t get enough saves from goalie Philipp Grubauer, who finished with a 3.18 goals-against average and .901 save percentage in the series.
“What’s going through my head right now is just disappointment,” Avalanche coach Jared Bednar said after his team finished 6-4 in the postseason. “You see the look on our guys’ faces, how much they want it, how much they care, and how hard they’re working. To come up short, it just hurts.
“Guys put a long year into work and commitment and dedication to the team, and you don’t get to where you want to go, so it’s disappointing.”
The Avalanche has a strong returning core under contract and excellent young players on pace to replace a handful of unrestricted free agents who will move on and free up cap space. Grubauer and left wing/team captain Gabe Landeskog are the two UFAs the Avalanche undoubtedly wanted to bring back.
But both struggled in the latter part of the Vegas series. Landeskog failed to produce a shot in regulation in Games 3, 4 and 5 and was turnover-prone. His leadership, as well as Bednar’s, was questioned during the 0-4 season-ending skid.
Still, the Avs remain in a championship window with so much young talent. Star center Nathan MacKinnon begins the second-to-last year of his team-friendly $6.3 million cap hit.
Colorado will likely again be a Stanley Cup favorite next season. But the Avs will first have to reconcile their playoff collapse.
“I’m real proud of the group in there, I’m proud of the season we had,” Landeskog said. “Obviously, you’re never really going to be satisfied, never going to be happy until you win that final game of the season. So it stinks.”
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