As if the path for the Blackhawks returning to glory, or simply just the playoffs, didn't look hard enough, a new horse has entered the race to block the Hawks way. Let me tell you, this horse is going to be an absolute thoroughbred. The Avalanche won game four of their first round matchup on Wednesday night to take a 3-1 series lead over the top-seeded Calgary Flames.
Before we painfully go over how good this Avs team has the potential to be, let's take a moment to appreciate playoff hockey. It is the best. Colorado is one win away from knocking off the number one seed in the West. The team with the most regular season wins in NHL history, the Tampa Bay Lightning, were swept as the top seed in East. Both one seeds losing in the first round.. it's never happened before. Wow.
Anyway, back to the Avalanche. Remember what the Hawks felt like in 2008-2009, when Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews were still establishing themselves in the league? Colorado has that feel to them. They are the fastest team in hockey. They might have the best top line in hockey.
Here's the scariest part of that top-line. Mikko Rantanen: 22 yearsold. Nathan MacKinnon: 23 years old. Gabriel Landeskog: 26 years old. This line combined for a whopping 261 points this season. MacKinnon led the way with 99 points, which was a career high for him.
MacKinnon is having a breakout party in these playoffs so far. In four games he has three goals and two assists. Much like Patrick Kane, when he has the puck, defenders back off in fear of being made look stupid. MacKinnon added an overtime winner in game two.
This team has youth all over, and they're ready to break out. JT Compher and Alexander Kerfoot helped back up the top line with scoring this season. They are 23 and 24 years old respectively.
The blue line is anchored by veterans Ian Cole and Erik Johnson. They also have promising young offensive-minded defensemen in Tyson Barrie, who registered 59 points this season, and newcomer Cale Makar, who made his NHL debut in game three. Makar scored a goal in his first game and provided quite the moment.
As for Wednesday night, the Avalanche were down 2-0 midway through the third period and ultimately tied the game with goals from Compher and Rantanen. The Avs looked like they were the one seed with the way they stormed back. The Flames simply couldn't keep up. Rantanen then won the game in overtime to push the Flames to the brink of elimination.
The Avs have to pay Rantanen this offseason, and that surely will not be cheap. However, letting Semyon Varlamov walk will clear up $5.9 million in cap space. They also have seven other restricted free agents to re-sign, most of whom will likely receive raises. However, Colorado is built to survive this scenario as they currently carry the league's third-lowest payroll.
Also, thanks to a trade with the Ottawa Senators, the Avalanche hold the fourth overall pick in the upcoming draft. This team is going to be loaded moving forward. If they can add some help on the blue line, this team could jump up to Stanley Cup favorites.
The Central was already a bloodbath with the Predators, Jets and Blues. Now with the Avalanche finally coming into their own, the path back to the playoffs only grows more difficult for the Blackhawks.
Featured Photo: Andy Cross/The Denver Post