Avalanche sightings: Valeri Nichushkin’s dominance, Cale Makar’s numbers and more

While playing, the Avalanche look like a team that feels free on the ice, especially in a 7-0 Game 2 rout that saw them skate circles around an elite Tampa Bay club. Colorado also looks like a team that immediately re-focuses after wins. That’s part of the reason the team is 14-2 this postseason: Coach Jared Bednar’s club has remained engaged no matter what happened the game prior.

Tampa, meanwhile, has back-to-back championships for a reason. So the Avalanche know their approach can’t waver just because they have a 2-0 series lead.

Star defenseman Cale Makar embodied that mindset in his postgame TV interview with ESPN’s Emily Kaplan on Saturday. Asked if Colorado will take any time to celebrate, he responded simply: “No.”

There’s still plenty of hockey to be played and still plenty to analyze. With that in mind, here are 15 observations heading into Game 3:

1. Darcy Kuemper faced only 16 shots in his shutout. According to NHL Stats, that’s tied for the second-fewest shots faced in a Stanley Cup shutout since 1955-56, the earliest year included in the department’s tracked data. Patrick Roy is the only goalie to make fewer saves in a Cup shutout: He stopped 15 pucks for the Canadiens in 1985-86.

“This was probably one of our best games in all the playoffs,” the netminder said. “We made some good adjustments from last game and really got to playing the way we want to. The guys were amazing tonight.”


Darcy Kuemper (Isaiah J. Downing / USA Today)

“We forechecked really, really well,” Erik Johnson said. “We played as a connected five-man unit all over the ice.”

2. Colorado suffered another injury Saturday when Andre Burakovsky took a Victor Hedman pass off his hand. Bednar said the winger is still being evaluated and will join the team Monday in Tampa.

Nazem Kadri, who underwent thumb surgery after Game 3 of the Edmonton series, traveled with the team Sunday. Bednar said he’s hopeful he’ll play in the series, though he’s not sure if he will be in the next two games.

“He’s starting to shoot pucks now and handle the puck more, catching and releasing it, like passing and shooting,” Bednar said. “So we’re hopeful we’re going to see him at some point.”

3. Burakovsky’s injury comes at an unfortunate time for the winger. He played excellently in the first two games of the Stanley Cup Final.

“I thought he was exceptional,” Bednar said of the minutes he played in Game 2. “When the play was there, he made it, and if not, he made the safe play and tried to put the puck into a position where we could retrieve it and maintain possession.”

The coach acknowledged that Burakovsky is an up-and-down player. But when he’s on, his skating and shooting ability make him tough to contain.

“He’s a guy that kind of gets on these hot streaks and can be very dangerous offensively when he does get in those,” Bednar said. “I know that he wants to win and he’s playing hard and doing everything that he can.”

4. According to StatMuse, Darren Helm leads the NHL in hits in these playoffs with 84. He had 12 in Game 2 to go along with a goal.

“He’s so driven,” Makar said after the game. “He’s been so good for us all season. Especially this playoffs now, playing such a key role for us.”

Bednar recently said that Helm, while solid in the regular season, has found a new level in the playoffs. He’s been a relentless bottom-six presence and, with Kadri out, has continued his strong play on the third line.

5. The Athletic‘s Michael Russo wrote about Valeri Nichushkin after Game 2, and a dive into his underlying numbers makes his performance even more impressive. Tampa Bay did not log a single five-on-five shot attempt with him on the ice, and Colorado had 13 in that span, according to Natural Stat Trick. The Avalanche had 100 percent of the expected goals share at five-on-five with him on the ice, outchanced the Lightning 7-0 and out-high-danger-chanced Tampa 4-0.

6. How about this stat? With Makar and Hedman on the ice at the same time, Colorado had six shot attempts and Tampa had zero, according to Natural Stat Trick. And with Makar and Nikita Kucherov on the ice at the same time, the Avalanche had three shot attempts and Tampa had zero.

7. The blowout win gave Colorado a chance to give Makar a bit of a rest. He played 21:58, which is down from the 27:51 he was averaging from the start of Round 2. Bowen Byram, meanwhile, played a team-high 22:18.

8. Alex Newhook picked up his first two Stanley Cup Final points. Though he’s only 21, he says he’s not taking this opportunity for granted.

“I feel very fortunate to be on a team, be a piece of a team in this position in my first full year,” he said. “You never know if you’ll be back. So everyone’s just trying to stay focused, and (we’ve) still got a lot of work to do.”

9. Bednar didn’t seem to like the Ondrej Palat cross-check on Makar in the third period, because he put the top power-play unit on the ice with a 6-0 lead. Makar ended the man-advantage time with a tally.

10. Check out the heat map for the game:

11. Mikko Rantanen had another huge game, logging three assists and showing off his dynamic playmaking ability. This feed to Makar on the power play is worth watching again:

And look at his pass to Nichushkin in the second:

Rantanen now leads all Avalanche forwards with 22 points. Only Makar (24) has more.

“I thought I’ve been playing very good the last two games, but it’s far from over and individually it’s important to reset after every game and not think about the last game,” Rantanen said. “That’s the mentality that we have (as a) team.”

12. Nathan MacKinnon hasn’t put up crazy numbers on the scoresheet, but he’s continued to have a strong postseason and has two assists in the Cup Final. He’s skating hard and creating chances, and Colorado had more than 80 percent of the expected goal share with him on the ice in Game 2. He also had a pair of near-assists, including this pass to Gabriel Landeskog:

13. Jack Johnson said Saturday that he graduated from University of Michigan this spring with a degree in general studies. The 35-year-old found ways to chip away at coursework over his hockey career and said statistics was his hardest course.

“What did it take me? 18 years?” Johnson joked. “Most people are doctors by that point.”

14. If you’re interested in how the “All The Small Things” sing-along tradition began: Arena DJ Craig Turney played the song once in the 2019-20 season and noticed that fans took to it, continuing to sing after he had cut the music, so he began playing it whenever the Avalanche had the lead in the third period. The crowd belted it last night:

15. Asked if the Avalanche need to guard against overconfidence, Erik Johnson had a good answer.

“We know they’re going to be a lot better team at home than when they were on the road, so we expect to get their best games here in 3 and 4, so from our standpoint, nothing changes,” Johnson said. “What are we (over)confident about? We haven’t won anything yet.”

(Top photo of Valeri Nichushkin behind the Lightning net: Isaiah J. Downing/USA Today)

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