This postseason was supposed to be different for the Colorado Avalanche.
They were the NHL’s hottest team entering the West Division final against the Golden Knights, the Presidents’ Trophy winner that seemed destined to play for the Stanley Cup.
The season ended, however, with an all-too-familiar feeling. The Avalanche failed to get out of the second round for the third year in a row, losing 6-3 in Game 6 on Thursday night at T-Mobile Arena.
“I’m going into my ninth year next year, and I haven’t won (bleep),” center Nathan MacKinnon said. “So I’m definitely motivated. It just sucks losing four in a row to a team. I thought last year was our first real chance to win, and this year I thought we had the best team in the league. For whatever reason, we couldn’t get it together.”
Colorado became the latest team to win the Presidents’ Trophy but not take the Cup. Eight teams have pulled off the double since the trophy was created in the 1985-86 season, but none since the Chicago Blackhawks in 2012-13.
The Avalanche were the aggressors against the Knights, outshooting them 33-23, but goalie Philipp Grubauer gave up five goals in his first 19 shots. He wasn’t helped by teammates who committed untimely mistakes that the Knights pounced on, and the Avalanche failed to take advantage of their own opportunities.
In the second period alone, the Avalanche outshot the Knights 10-6 and looked set to head into the second intermission tied at 3 after scoring twice. But Alex Pietrangelo’s rebound shot with 17.2 seconds left put the Knights back ahead and erased any momentum the Avalanche could have taken into the locker room.
“We had so many looks, so many chances,” left wing Gabriel Landeskog said. “I thought we really dominated tonight, but they’re a great team. They put us on our heels in Games 3 and 4, and for whatever reason we couldn’t shake that off.”
Coach Jared Bednar took the Avalanche to the playoffs for the fourth year in a row after they went three consecutive seasons without qualifying.
But expectations increased with each passing season. Just getting to the playoffs no longer was good enough. The Avalanche had the look of a Cup winner this season.
They blew by the St. Louis Blues in the first round, outscoring them 20-7 in a four-game sweep. A week later, they opened at home by crushing the Knights 7-1 and then survived in overtime of Game 2 for a 2-0 series lead.
Then the Knights won four in a row.
“I’m confident I can guide this team,” Bednar said. “I’m dedicated to this team with my preparation, with my relationships with the guys. I’m confident in our coaching staff and the X’s and O’s. If people want to point the finger at someone, yeah, I hope it’s me because I like the way our team operated this year.
“I live by a motto of extreme ownership, and I’m the one that’s running the team, so I take responsibility.”