Avalanche win battle of attrition to reach Stanley Cup final

With Nazem Kadri injured, Colorado’s Mikko Rantanen moved to center to take his place and took a couple of blows to the back of the leg from Edmonton’s Duncan Keith that sent him to the ice.

Rantanen got up, shoved Keith and got back into play. He later scored the go-ahead goal in a Western Conference Finals home and away game 4 which the Avalanche won to sweep the Oilers from the playoffs and move on to play for the Stanley Cup.

The Avalanche didn’t come through the series unscathed, but with Edmonton star Leon Draisaitl skating on a strong leg and defenseman Darnell Nurse playing with a hip injury, they face the New York Rangers. York or defend back to back. champion Tampa Bay Lightning in the Cup Final next week.

“It’s a battle of attrition,” said Jared Bednar, in his fifth season as Colorado coach. “No one comes out of this without going through a bunch of ups and downs, ups and downs, series, injuries, in the face of adversity, and it seems like the teams that come out the best are usually those who stand at the end – or at least enter the final.

After knocking out Connor McDavid and the Oilers in four games, the start of this Finals is at least a week away, if not longer. Although Kadri’s left thumb injury will make him a long shot to come back, the extra time could allow the Avalanche to get starting goaltender Darcy Kuemper and other players healthy before facing their biggest playoff task so far.

The West final spanning five or more games would have risked more injuries for Colorado after winger Andre Burakovsky ran out of time to block a shock and every shift was another opportunity for an extra hit in areas without padding. The Avalanche certainly won’t scoff at the rest advantage.

“A week off is going to help us with the stoned players we have,” Rantanen said. “But we are used to it. After the first round we also had a week off, so that’s nothing new for us.

Being in the final is new for this core of Nathan MacKinnon, captain Gabriel Landeskog, Rantanen, Norris Trophy finalist defender Cale Makar and grizzled blue understudy Erik Johnson. The organization hasn’t reached that point since 2001, when it won its second championship in six years.

Captaining the 1996 and 2001 championship teams was Joe Sakic, now in his eighth season as general manager and ninth in charge of the front office. Amid the post-game celebration of key trade delay acquisition Artturi Lehkonen, winner of Monday night’s overtime, some players asked Sakic what he and his teammates did with the Clarence Campbell Bowl – the trophy for having won the West which is sometimes shunned by players in the name of superstition with the biggest trophy possible down the road.

Landeskog gathered the Avalanche to stand around him, and he and MacKinnon each got their hands on it but did not parade it on the ice.

“At the end of the day, we’re writing our own story here,” Makar said. “Whatever the decision of these guys, the management group of our team, I know it’s the right decision.”

There were no sawtooth smiles in the team photo with the trophy and NHL deputy commissioner Bill Daly, and the celebration was muted for the Avalanche.

“Everyone is obviously happy with the opportunity we have, but I don’t feel like anyone is happy,” Bednar said. “Everyone is happy and that’s good, but that’s not why we started the season. It wasn’t our approach at the start, and it’s certainly very difficult to get here, but our guys are already pretty focused and we’ll be looking forward to getting there soon.

First, the Rangers and Lightning need to settle the Eastern Conference Finals to see who’s next for Colorado, who still have the home advantage.

“From this series, it doesn’t matter at all,” Rantanen said. “Whoever comes is who we play against. We don’t care at all.


Follow AP Hockey writer Stephen Whyno on Twitter at https://twitter.com/SWhyno


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